Tucson organization helping homeless and aged-out foster youth needs donations to finish housing project

KOLD News 10-10:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Feb. 15, 2023 at 10:25 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - As southern Arizona residents brace for a hard freeze warning, organizations across the Tucson area are working to get people off the streets for the night.

I Am You 360 is taking a permanent approach for homeless and aged-out foster youth. The organization is building tiny homes for 18- to 22-year-olds in need.

Desiree Cook, program founder and CEO, said she is embracing her past and using what she learned to help others. Cook used to be homeless and struggled with substance use disorder.

She turned her life around and wants others to know they can do the same.

“We’re sowing them back into the fabric of the community and more importantly just saving lives and creating whole healed people. I do believe the world deserves to have healed people,” Cook said.

The non-profit she started in 2014 provides access to personal hygiene products, internships and mentoring experiences. Classes are designed to teach teens not only life skills but also self-love.

“We currently have a unit that was donated to us and we’re housing ten under-served youth,” Cook said. “This particular project is eco-friendly, and sustainable and will be here for years to come it will serve nine under-served youth. It will bring us to 19.”

That project is the Small Home Experience and it’s providing a one-bedroom, 450 square-foot space with a washer, dryer, and more amenities young people need to succeed.

“They’ll pay a dollar per square foot so with that we’ll save half their rent which is $225 and put that in escrow for the next three years. That will allow them to purchase their next starter home, providing a solution and getting to the root causes of homelessness,” Cook said.

According to new data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Arizona tops the list of the largest increase in homeless youth. Around 2,220 people are considered homeless in Tucson. Of that, 179 are youth.

Organizers said that number is likely much higher since data doesn’t typically include people who “couch surf” or go from home to home.

“We would all win by building safe and affordable housing,” Cook said. “The whole goal was to not only introduce themselves, but to speak and let them know they’re valuable and they are somebody.”

The organization needs around $700,000 to complete construction.

The final four homes were paid for by the community, but they still need money for roofs, windows and doors.

If you want to donate or if you’re interested in applying to live in one of those tiny homes, click HERE.