More than a decade after the Ann Ott Elementary School closed its doors to children, the International Rescue Committee has reopened them to asylum-seeking families in what’s now called the Welcome Center. The IRC leases the property from the Phoenix Elementary School District for $500 a month.
When it opened in late July, it welcomed 30 people belonging to 12 families during the first weekend. Currently the Welcome Center can shelter up to 70 people. As the building undergoes renovations, the IRC expects capacity will increase to 277 people. While the number of people requesting asylum has decreased during the summer months, community engagement director Stanford Prescott told Lorraine Rivera the IRC anticipates the number will rise again in the fall.
“We see this as an investment. We expect that numbers will go back up in the fall when it cools down and families continue making that journey. So we do want to have this space available and ready so that we can welcome those families so that we don’t get a repeat of what happened last year here in the Phoenix area where families were just being dropped off at the Greyhound Bus Station,” Prescott said.
The IRC has helped resettle refugees in the Phoenix area for more than 25 years. Prescott said its response to the surge in asylum seekers represents the group’s first time delivering emergency humanitarian assistance on U.S. soil. Prior to opening the Welcome Center, the IRC teamed up with St. Vincent de Paul to open a day center that helped more than 5,000 people between March and June.