Tucson Monastery Now Taking In Migrants As A Shelter

Published: Thursday, January 31, 2019 - 1:42pm
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LAUREN GILGER: We've talked before on The Show about the number of churches around the state that are taking in asylum seekers as ICE drops off busloads of them all the time. Now, a historic Tucson monastery has been turned into a temporary shelter for these asylum seekers. Teresa Cavendish, director of operations for Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, says they got the keys to the monastery to convert it into a shelter last Thursday afternoon. But by 6:00a.m. on Saturday morning, she got a request from ICE to take in more than 130 people.

TERESA CAVENDISH: Within six hours, we had to put together things that we thought was going to take us a couple of weeks to do. The first thing we had to do is determine where everyone was going to sleep. There's plenty of rooms. There's easily 50 bedrooms in that place. But there wasn't a single bed. There wasn't a single chair. There was nothing in the building.

GILGER: So Cavendish got on the phone with the Red Cross and got some medical exam beds, cots and blankets and supplies. Staff gathered what they could from their own homes. And they activated a volunteer group to put together intakes and registration for the incoming people.

CAVENDISH: This is not a drill. We're going to have of a lot of folks with us this afternoon.

GILGER: Who exactly are the people who needed shelter this quickly? These are folks who are who are seeking asylum?

CAVENDISH: These are all asylum seekers. There were also in Guatemala. It was a wide variety of moms and kids, dads and kids. And this time, we were even seeing intact families where the dad and the mom had been allowed to remain together and bring their children.

GILGER: So I assume you've worked in this arena for some time. Have you ever seen anything like this before, this kind of demand this quickly?

CAVENDISH: Nothing that had been passed to us this quickly. Well I have to say, since October, we've been seeing these kind of things. At the beginning of October, within Arizona they were releasing very large numbers of people quite rapidly and so several communities were responding: the Tucson, the Yuma, and then the Phoenix areas. Before October, we were not seeing these kind of activities, these mass releases, and honestly since October, it's become fairly frequent.

GILGER: Right. So the demand is not stopping. How long can you offer these people housing as they await to find out whether or not they will be able to get asylum in this country?

CAVENDISH: Well, folks only stay with us for a very brief period of time. They're within our shelters for a day, maybe two days — sometimes it's a little bit longer if their families are having difficulty putting their travel plans together. The families have been released with 15 days of humanitarian parole. So they have 15 days from the point of release from ICE in order to travel across the country and reunite with their families or their friends who have agreed to sponsor them. So the families are contacting us letting us know when their loved ones can travel to meet them. They are purchasing the tickets for the family.

GILGER: So with this kind of demand since October as you described, where is the funding for this coming from for you? Is it getting stretched at this point?

CAVENDISH: It's all donations. It's always been all donations in this program. We've received a lot of support and response from the community, both locally and across the nation. And we're very grateful for it. We need all of it but without the support and the care of folks who really have a heart for what these folks have gone through in order to find some safety and some hope that we would be able to do this work at all.

GILGER: Give us a sense of that and why you think this work is important.

CAVENDISH: They fled their homes not because they wanted to leave their home. They left their homes. They left their home countries. They left their families that they've had to leave behind. They are in fear of their lives and that can come because of direct threats that have been made against them, actual violence that they have experienced, extortion and some of these people are experiencing incredible poverty that they can't feed their families every day. It's not that they want to make more money. They need to feed their family. So they're doing everything they can to provide the type of security and safety and the ability for their children to develop and grow. Sometimes we take for granted in this country the very, very basics.

GILGER: Yeah. Alright, that's Teresa Cavendish, director of operations with Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona. Teresa, thank you for joining us to talk to us about this this morning.

CAVENDISH: Thank you, it's my pleasure.

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