JOSHUA TREE — Panorama Heights community members gathered at the Joshua Tree Sportsman’s Club Tuesday night to discuss the future of former Fire Station 35. The building was given to the Family Assistance Program in April by San Bernardino County to be turned into a day-use homeless facility, but after dozens of community members expressed their outrage, the county revoked that lease. Now, the county has agreed to lease the building to Morongo Basin Aligning Resources, Challenging Homelessness (ARCH).
Morongo Basin ARCH is a nonprofit organization. It has two major services: food and sheltering. Volunteers with its food program drive around weekly in Twentynine Palms to pass out food to local homeless people. The nonprofit also runs two sober living homes in Twentynine Palms — one for women only and the other for men.
ARCH also works with the Pathways Network Project. Pathways helps community members avoid looming evictions and pays move-in costs for people who are homeless or are at risk of being homeless.
ARCH provides temporary financial assistance to overcome whatever barrier is keeping local families from living in permanent housing.
“People call us and say, ‘I’m going to get evicted,’” said President of Morongo Basin ARCH Astrid Johnson. “If it’s not too late, maybe we can do prevention.”
ARCH has been running this program since August and has already helped over 20 families, said case manager Elaine Musko. And while the nonprofit has money to help more families for the next two years, it does not have a space to meet with potential clients.
Case managers have been meeting with families outside of restaurants, at parks and at the library, Musko said.
Morongo Basin ARCH asked the county if it could use the building as an administrative office. The building, located on Sierra Avenue in the Panorama Heights area, covers about 2,760 square feet, including living quarters and a laundry room.
“They are going to set it up as an outreach office,” said Wayne Hamilton, a homeless outreach coordinator for Morongo Unified School District. “What we propose to do is use that building to do intakes, computer and office stuff.”
Hamilton said the building will be open for meetings by appointments only during business hours. Meetings will be between Musko and families in need that might qualify for financial assistance. They will fill out paperwork to see if they qualify for funding.
“I know some people were opposed to the homeless shelter, so we refocused what we want to do and that’s what we approached it as,” Hamilton said. “It’s not going to house anyone or have a lot of traffic. It’s just going to be an office building.”
The county has already tentatively approved the use of the building for ARCH and is writing up a lease agreement, he said.
The lease will be for five years and Morongo Basin ARCH will pay the county one dollar a year.
Because of how big the building is, ARCH might allow other local programs to use it, Johnson said.
The Morongo Basin Community Emergency Response Team used to store its equipment in the old fire station but had to move it after the county took over. ARCH’s lease would allow CERT to use the space again.
ARCH has also been receiving donations of linens and furniture for the people they help and Johnson said the old fire station could be used to store these donations.
Members of the public who attended the meeting said they were happy about the change from a day-use homeless facility to an administrative building, but several people also expressed their concern that, down the line, the purpose of the building could change.
“What’s to stop you from saying in a year from now that your needs are different and now you’re going to make it a homeless shelter?” asked one Panorama Heights property owner.
Hamilton and Johnson said they would ask the county to include language in the lease specifying that the building could only be used as an office building.
“When I tell you we’re going to use it as an office, we’re going to use it as an office,” Hamilton said. “If we don’t do what we tell you, call (3rd District Supervisor Dawn Rowe). I guarantee you we’ll be out in a month.”
Johnson encouraged anyone who was concerned to come to the Morongo Basin ARCH board meetings to get involved with the planning of the building and the program. Monthly meetings are held at 11:30 a.m. on the third Thursday of the month at the Lutheran church at 6336 Hallee Road in Joshua Tree.