If you are in the need of inspiration, or need to restore your faith in mankind, simply spend a few minutes with Allison Lenocker, executive director of the Coalition for Compassion and Justice.
A born and raised Arizonan, Allison arrived in Prescott “by way of love,” she says. Her at-the-time boyfriend, now husband was living in Prescott and thus the move north.
While in Phoenix, Allison experienced an interesting upbringing, her father an undercover narcotics policeman, her mother an actress. “On one side, there was my dad who was very cautious and regimental, and my mother who was open and introduced me to a diverse and creative theater community.”
Along with waiting tables and other occupations, Allison coached Special Olympics. “I really enjoyed the experience. I’ve always worked with people, and rooted for the under-dog,” she said. “Special Olympics was a great fit. I treat everyone as if they are equal and with a level of respect that is often missing when working with folks who have development issues.
“You are no different than anyone else, and I treat them that way.”
Having relocated to Prescott, Allison spent the next nine years at Mingus Mountain Academy. “Mingus was more of a therapeutic environment, and I brought the same belief there.”<br />
Ready for the next challenge, Allison joined CCJ as the assistant director in 2018. The program was going through a huge transition and reprioritized its energies and resources toward ending homelessness.
“There were several projects that we had that were duplicated services in the area. So, by streamlining our services, we are able to address a major need with our full effort,” she said.
While still operating a drop-in shelter, thrift store and advocating for and offering referral services, the focus of the program has shifted to creating housing opportunities for individuals who would otherwise not be able to do such. Basically “to end and prevent homelessness.”
The program, “Second Chance Housing,” has grown from 11 trailers, to include The Cottages, which are individual units connected to a main home, and The Lodge Concept, which offers affordable transitional housing with six rooms surrounding a common area, or “lodge.”
None of this was done alone. CCJ continues to receive immense community support, and through collaborative relationships with local builders, craftsman and volunteers, the program continues to expand.
Paloma Village in Chino Valley is currently in the works. Paloma is to be a residential mobile home community focusing on affordable housing. The project was announced in 2018 on a 4-acre plot.
Along the way, Jessi Hans, Allison’s mentor, co-worker and “partner in crime,” relocated and Allison was placed in the role of executive director.
“The mission of CCJ is as strong as ever, and the need for affordable housing has never been greater,” Allision said.
“The vast majority of our clients are employed on a full-time basis, but are just not able to find housing within their budget. We are seeing a greater need for employed individuals and families that are not homeless out of desire, but due to the cost of housing in the area, and other circumstances.”
CCJ receives no government funding and, as such, relies on grants and donations from foundations and individuals who partner with them to address a continuing and growing crisis.
Despite the significant strides the program has made in a relatively short period of time, there is still a stigma attached to homelessness.
“When you provide affordable housing, and show compassion to an individual, you are not just putting a roof over their head, or listening to them, you are returning their dignity,” Allison said.
“No one wakes up everyday and says, ‘I wanna go panhandle and beg for money.’ It is demoralizing. When you take them out of that environment, and show them respect, you see changes which we take for granted.”
Explaining further, Allison adds, “Whether it’s something as simple as new clothes, or women getting their hair done or wearing make-up, it’s part of a return to normalcy.
“The shift in homelessness is from what we normally perceive as the ‘typical’ client. What we are seeing is individuals on fixed incomes, a family of four living in their vehicle in the woods.
“The face of homelessness has changed,” she said.
“My folks instilled in me the belief that people can be different, you can be yourself and have your own opinion, but you have to be kind,” she said, “and I carry that with me every day.”
For more information, visit yavapaiccj.org.
Barry Barbe owns the El Gato Azul and Torme restaurants in Prescott, and is the energy and insight behind the Prescott Palette. Email: Prespalette@gmail.com.