Jessica Boehm Arizona Republic
(CNT) City News And Talk #arizona
The Phoenix City Council Tuesday approved a broad list of strategies to address the burgeoning homelessness crisis in the city.
The plan, requested by Mayor Kate Gallego earlier this year, calls for a regional distribution of homeless shelters and resources, more affordable housing options, enhanced neighborhood encampment cleanups and more mental health services.
Maricopa County is facing record numbers of people experiencing homelessness. According to the most recent point-in-time count, more than 7,400 people are experiencing homelessness. More than half of those are not living in a shelter and instead stay on the streets, in vehicles or in other areas not meant for habitation.
For decades, Phoenix leaders have criticized the state, Maricopa County and suburban cities for not providing adequate support for homelessness services and forcing Phoenix to carry the burden for the entire region.
When Gallego called for a homelessness plan earlier this year, she said she hoped Phoenix’s renewed commitment to ending homelessness will force the hands of other levels of government to take on the challenge as well.
“We are stepping up to do more and we look forward to every other level of government stepping up to do more,” Gallego said before Tuesday’s vote.
The plan includes a list of ideas for how to address a range of overarching issues that contribute to homelessness, like housing affordability and mental health. But few of the strategies had specific deadlines or funding attached to them.
The council approved the plan unanimously, but many council members pushed staff to provide clearer timelines and budgetary information.
About a dozen homelessness services providers, advocates and community members provided mostly positive feedback about the city’s commitment to helping people find permanent housing and minimizing the impact of homelessness on neighborhoods.
But there was a resounding caveat that the plan only will be worthwhile if its strategies are actually implemented.
“(Remember), this is just a framework. Now the real work really begins,” Darlene Newsom, UMOM chief executive, said.
Here are the plan’s goals and some of the strategies the Phoenix City Council believes will accomplish those goals.
Read the full report and all of the strategies on the city of Phoenix website.
Outreach and resources
Goal: “To connect those experiencing homelessness to outreach and resources to assist in resolving their homelessness.”
Fund dedicated mental health outreach teams.
Coordinate a bi-annual resource day for homeless LGBTQ+ community.
Work with school districts to identify families on the brink of homelessness and connect them with appropriate services.
Provide funding to relocate and transitionally house veterans and support the U.S. Vets program.
Goal: “Connect individuals experiencing homelessness to affordable and appropriate behavioral health and substance abuse services.”
Support the Arizona Department of Housing’s initiative to renovate the Birch Building on the Arizona State Hospital grounds to provide approximately 50 units of transitional shelter for people experiencing homelessness with mental health conditions.
Provide a service resource navigator near the Municipal Court arraignment courtrooms to speak with individuals appearing for arraignment who could benefit from homeless, substance abuse or general mental health resources.
Advocate for Medicaid to allow funding to be used for mental health facilities with more than 16 beds.
Goal: “Increase employment and economic opportunities for job seekers experiencing homelessness.”
Provide career and work readiness services to individuals experiencing homelessness through a Workforce Development Specialist in the Homeless Services Division.
Increase the economic security for individuals experiencing homelessness through employment opportunities, education, training, and supportive services.
Goal: “Prevent the loss of housing through eviction prevention.”
Partner with the Arizona Department of Housing to utilize its rent assistance funds for Phoenix residents.
Work with federal partners and advocacy groups to include more low- to moderate-income families and individuals in eviction protection programs.
Goal: “Provide adequate, accessible, smaller and specialized shelters and temporary housing for persons experiencing homelessness. Also, support and expand bridge and transitional housing opportunities for persons requiring additional medical, behavioral health, or other intensive supportive services before moving to permanent housing.”
Increase funding and resources for shelter facilities.
Partner with nonprofits and health care organizations to expand successful, specialty shelter models.
Identify vacant buildings that can be repurposed to provide shelter facilities.
Create and implement a regional strategy to increase the number of emergency and low-barrier shelter beds across metro Phoenix.
Permanent supportive housing
Goal: “Expand options and efficiently utilize Permanent Supportive Housing opportunities for persons experiencing homelessness.”
Pressure the Arizona Veterans Administration to provide additional referrals to fill unused veteran housing vouchers.
Encourage more landlords to participate in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program by streamlining contract processes, inspections, notifications and payments to landlords.
Goal: Increase the availability of housing for Phoenix residents at all income levels by implementing the nine strategies in the Housing Phoenix Plan to create or preserve 50,000 housing units by 2030.
Redevelop city-owned land for affordable housing.
Find alternative funding sources for affordable housing.
Debunk myths about affordable housing and people who need subsidized housing.
Reduce barriers for developers to construct affordable housing.
Goal: “Maintain a healthy and safe environment in public right-of-way including streets, alleyways, parks and parks preserves.”
Hire additional staff to focus efforts on biohazard cleanup.
Contract a private vendor to work with Human Services Campus for weekly cleanups.
Research and identify partnerships for homeless rehabilitation/ticket/restitution program that helps with cleanups.
Hire permanent staff to take on coordination and reporting roles for the cleanup effort.
Goal: “More effectively engage neighborhoods to identify the issues they are experiencing and develop solutions.”
Provide clear, easy-to-follow instructions for requesting help from multiple city departments.
Use data to determine hot spots for encampments and other issues to directly engage with impacted neighborhoods.
Continue to implement and evaluate the Gated Alley Program Pilot.
Explore partnership opportunities to address public restrooms and waste receptacles in supportive neighborhoods.
Neighborhood leaders point out their concerns
A number of neighborhood leaders weighed in on the homelessness plan with cautious optimism.
Homelessness has caused tension in many neighborhoods because of the blight associated with encampments and concerns about crime and mental health issues in parks and residential communities.
Community leaders from across the city said they were happy to see the city’s commitment to including neighborhood groups in decision making about homelessness.
But, they said they were concerned that the plan did not outline how to push people to get addiction or mental health treatment when they refuse.
“One area where we still have concerns is in the area of accountability — accountability of individuals who receive services and accountability of services providers themselves,” Spellman said.
Eva Olivas, a neighborhood leader in the area surrounding the Human Services Campus, said her community has asked the city to help lessen the burden of homelessness on neighborhoods for decades and it still feels like the council isn’t listening.
She said the plan lacked a real commitment to the neighborhoods to help clean up trash and reduce crime.
“I feel like our voices continue to fall on deaf ears. This is history repeating itself,” Olivas said.
St. Luke’s as homeless shelter?
After voting on the homeless plan, the council considered a request from council members Thelda Williams, Sal DiCiccio and Michael Nowakowksi to direct city staff to look into using the now-closed St. Luke’s Medical Center as a homeless shelter and mental health treatment center.
St. Luke’s closed in late 2019 because of a lack of patients.
DiCiccio posted on Twitter a few weeks ago saying he wanted to move the Human Services Campus — the largest homeless campus in the state that shelters about 450 people a night — to the closed 9-story St. Luke’s building.
Amy Schwabenlender, the executive director of the Human Services Campus, said DiCiccio had not discussed St. Luke’s with her. The Human Services Campus owns the property where it currently operates and has no plans to relocate, she said.
City Manager Ed Zuercher said St. Luke’s campus sold to a private investment group a few years ago for more than $100 million. It’s not clear if the current owner wants to sell or how much it would cost now.
After concerns about the cost and viability of St. Luke’s, DiCiccio, Nowakowski and Williams agreed to ditch the St. Luke’s portion of their request.
DiCiccio, Nowakowski and Williams also requested staff to look at pursuing a “cost-sharing agreement” with Maricopa County and the state of Arizona to make sure they are contributing “their fair share towards addressing (homelessness and behavioral health) issues.”
The city cannot force the state and county into a cost-sharing agreement and it’s not clear that either entity would be willing to do so.
Some council members were skeptical that an agreement would be possible but ultimately agreed to allow staff to pursue a cost-sharing agreement with the state, county and other cities on behavioral health and homelessness issues.