Old fire station will serve as a new office for a local nonprofit

The county's fire station in Panorama Heights has been closed for more than a decade. Located just southeast of Copper Mountain College, the station is slated to become an office building for Morongo Basin ARCH.

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.

(22) comments

Branson Hunter

Oh, here is something on poverty. A Bible verse on caring for the poor, marginalized and disadvantged:"Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the father's is this: "Reach out to the homeless and loveless their flight, and guard against corruption from the Godless world. James 1:27. Merry Christmas or happy holidays to the protesters. May you all be warm and comfy.

Josh

This is a good thing.

idavidgraficks

This second attempt at utilizing the old Panorama Heights Fire Station is a refinement of a practical use. I helped fund-raise for that station 1988-91 with the Panorama Heights Community Association. We raised about $15,000 and the station was built for about $200,000 in 1992. It functioned as a CDF (California Dept. of Forestry) Fire Station from 1992-97. Then County Fire took over and it became unfeasible due to County Fire being 50% higher in costs, so it became a training station and Fire Engine storage facility. The first proposal for it's use by FAP was a very sloppy and somewhat deceitfully presented 'lease'. It would have been an attraction for all the homeless people in the Morongo Basin to our little centralized community of Panorama Heights. Both 29 Palms and Yucca Valley say "they don't have a homeless problem". I was at this latest meeting and it looks like ARCH has all their ducks in a row.

DL

Well said Branson. When I read this article my mouth literally dropped open. I came here in 1978 and we were a community that cared about people, that helped others the way we would like to be helped. What a sad state of affairs the people would oppose helping the homeless. Tragic, we have become just like the big city.

booboo77

That station was also built to be a community center. It had a nice large public swimming pool right next door. Cracked and empty for years now. Why can't it serve the people who put the time and money and energy into creating it in the first place? Panorama Heights is a community unto itself but lacks everything a community really needs. No stores, no fire station, no gas station, no meeting place, nowhere to throw a regular dance or a kid's Halloween party. No playgrounds either. Why can't it serve as a community center for the neighborhood it was built to serve? It has a big kitchen. Serve some cheap meals like they do at the Sportsman Club in J.T. Have a swap meet once in a while. People hardly know their neighbors anymore- there's no where to mingle. Every other community has a community center. Why are they giving theirs away?

TwoToeJoe

I certainly would agree that the Panorama Heights citizens know what's best for it's community and likewise expressed it's opinion and desire. Every community knows the problems associated with hosting vagrants. 29 Palms and Yucca Valley have never said "they do not have a homeless problem". They have an "attraction" problem with those vagrants and thus make attempts to redistribute them to other areas such as what was being imposed upon the "little centralized community of Panorama Heights". It seems that the citizens of Panorama Heights used a little common sense rather than relying just on empathy. The FAP (Family Assistance Program) organization attempted to congregate the homeless with a day use facility in that little community which was a bad idea. The people of the community spoke and they went away and I hope they can find someplace else where the homeless and the associated problems can and will be tolerated. ARCH is not much better as it operates sobriety and halfway houses for those suffering from drug addictions, mental illnesses, and paroled criminals in our communities with no public input. The locations of these homes are a closely guarded secret and the imposition is their best course of action to prevent public opinion from being expressed. The poor fellow who suffers from poor reading comprehension skills that quoted that James 1:27 Bible verse may want to seek help. My Bible quotes James 1:27 as " Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." If he does not mind I would prefer my Christian interpretation rather than rely on his. It is a very sad day in America when Bible scripture is cherry picked, misinterpreted, and used to shame citizens in making political decisions. Many different religious groups follow different traditions in interpreting Biblical scripture. I realize our country is driven by Judeo-Christian values but many of us universally know the difference between what is right and wrong. Sad. Very sad indeed.

Branson Hunter

Let me get this straight, you are scolding arch for operating services for those sufferin? Or are you scolding arch for doing what they do in your community?

TwoToeJoe

I can understand there are some who lack simple comprehension skills and need clarifications but as I have stated many times before I can not draw pictures. So I will give it another try. Placing drug addicts, mental defectives, and criminals into our neighborhoods should have public input just as those fine citizens in Panorama Heights were afforded. ARCH could care less about public input and never solicits citizens concerns about placing deviants in our community. Now hopefully you could straighten me out. By quoting Biblical scripture are you scolding those fine citizens in Panorama Heights for being unenlightened people and lacking moral principles? Certainly even the most astute local social justice warrior could agree that public input and concerns regarding our neighborhoods are not only just known but important and should be respected right?

Branson Hunter

TT, I'm certainly not of social Warrior. I'm an old guy has a few years left. I don't believe too many biblical religious leaders would stand with you on your philosophy of loathing and contempt for those whom you speak about. What about the churches and organizations located in Joshua tree that provide food and groceries for those that have not? Would you want all of them to disappear from the various communities

On another serious note have safe and happy holidays or happy holidays these days

TwoToeJoe

Branson, the community of Panorama Heights does not have a homeless problem. It is the community of Panorama Heights that has decided that a day use facility for the homeless would be inappropriate for their community. I am sure the rationality of that decision was not simply made because they are a band of heathens as you attempted to assert by your Biblical quote innuendo. I seriously doubt that the decision was made because of a philosophy of contempt and loathing for the homeless. I am quite sure the reason was because of the risk factors associated with many of the homeless such as the drug addicts, those with mental health disorders and the criminal element. I have no problems with any Church or organization that provide food, groceries, or any support for the homeless in Joshua Tree if that community desires to accept it. I do have a problem when it is forced upon a community and justified by a simple Bible quote or demanded by the personal whims of religious leaders. My question still is "are those citizens in Panorama Heights unenlightened and immoral people" for voicing their concerns about the day use facility in their community? The other question concerning "public input" and "concerns" as being important also was conveniently not answered but I kind of expected that. Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Branson Hunter

Most people, but not all, support nonprofit benevolent organizations that support the community of those less fortunate. Don't be an old Scrooge it's Christmas for goodness sakes.

TwoToeJoe

Most people are blessed with common sense. I guess now, in your view, those folks in Panorama Heights should be considered not only as the "unenlightened and immoral" but now in the holiday season sense as "scrooges". Well done Branson.

Branson Hunter

Stop the bickering. No neighborhood is a sovereign. That's how it works.

TwoToeJoe

Thanks for the clarification Branson. I guess not only those folks in Panorama Heights are unenlightened, immoral and scrooges but now they should not have any input or decisions concerning what takes place in their community. I completely understand now "how it works". You could had simply stated that in the beginning and prevented the "bickering"!

canislatrans

As a five-year resident of Panorama Heights who attended the meeting described here, I can attest that a majority of the neighbors don't even come close to fitting the horrendous and apathetic description of us offered by Two Toe Joe. Most in attendance at the meeting were willing to support ARCH given some clarification of the organization's intentions.

TwoToeJoe

Enlighten me. What was the was the "horrendous and apathetic description of us offered by Two Toe Joe"? Was it when I stated that Panorama Heights "should have input and decisions concerning their community"? Certainly a five year resident of Panorama Heights attending a meeting for the "clarifications" concerning any intentions regarding the community is providing "input" regarding "decisions". If anyone had followed along with this discussion it was Branson who claimed those folks in Panorama Heights were "unenlightened, immoral and scrooges" and stated they should "not have any input or decisions concerning what takes place in their community". Branson justified it by further clarifying that no "neighborhood is sovereign" and "that's how it works". I disagreed with his assertions and opinions. The "FAP" day-use homeless facility was rejected when "dozens of community members expressed their outrage" evidently for obvious reasons. The "ARCH" proposal was accepted when the "clarifications" were made that it would only be utilized as an "administration office" and that they "use that building to do intakes, computer and office stuff.” So then again I ask exactly what was the "horrendous and apathetic description of us offered by Two Toe Joe"?

Branson Hunter

Thanks to the resident who give an explanation of the meeting.

CookieG

Could they at least sleep warm and comfy at night without a feeling of shame now Branson?

Branson Hunter

The cookie crumbles. They, the people that are suffering from shivering cold, are not all warm and comfy. I get the sense you don't care and that's okay because we kind of have free choice in this country. You either have compassion or you don't...

CookieG

Pehaps the better question to ask is do you sleep warm and comfy at night?

Branson Hunter

The issues haven't changed. It's still about the neighborhood, ARCH, the homeless.

Branson Hunter

No

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