In Reflections
Reflections from the Front Lines


If I had a magic wand…

It’s been 17 days since my last post.

On a personal front, in November 2021 I took a COVID test because I felt like I had a sinus infection and couldn’t smell garlic on a piece of toast. I don’t remember what I last smelled before that. I smelled nothing for months and months, then the smell of bleach and citrus cleaners arrived; then other less than pleasant things (smoke, fire, exhaust). In the past two weeks, I have smelled cinnamon and lilies! Progress! Onward!

Even better news at the Human Services Campus, the decision with our healthcare partner Circle the City, that with the CDC announcement that COVID is now an endemic, we have removed mask mandates from all areas and spaces on the Campus. Best email I have written, ever, the one telling employees that masks are no longer required. It’s been three years…. what tremendous resilience and fortitude in our staff and the people we serve. I remember initial conversations with our service partners and wondering if clients would agree to wear masks, what we do if they didn’t…. They adapted. They accepted it as another requirement, another hoop to jump through to receive help. In three years I can’t count up to ten fingers that an incident happened due to a person refusing to wear a mask. Now there were ongoing reminders…. and wasn’t that true everywhere?

The unsheltered in our neighborhood this week is 887. The sheltered count in four spaces on the Campus was nearly 900. Total 1,787.

Three years ago the unsheltered count was less than 300 in this neighborhood. The sheltered count at the same time was about 470. Total 770.

For locals who see the media and hear our neighborhood referred to as “the zone,” HSC is not supportive of this label. It’s meant to sound derogatory. Why would we refer to ourselves that way?

On the ground, weekly data tells us that homelessness is on the rise. Data from this year’s Point-in-Time Count (PIT) will be presented at the Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care Board meeting on Monday. Although the PIT is a snapshot with imperfections, it is a number. We will see what the data reveals on Monday.

In other data news, I am about 25% of the way through reading a new book, “Homelessness is a Housing Problem: How Structural Factors Explain U.S. Patterns.” It’s written by Gregg Colburn and Clayton Page Aldern. So far I have to say, they are on to something – variances in levels of homelessness across cities are not due to individual differences (meaning not differences in people), variances are due to housing system issues. If you want to nerd out with me, read it, and we can have a book club discussion. If you don’t want to nerd out reading a book, I’ll share more thoughts when I finish reading.

Back to those 887 unsheltered, there is news coverage of a certain court ruling that affects the city we reside in stating all of these folks will be offered services and relocated. I want to be optimistic that it will all play out well, that there are going to be enough indoor options for each person. I want to count on our partnerships to be part of solutions. At this point, I know nothing more certain than anyone else seeing the news.

I do know that spaces on the HSC are maxed out for sleeping arrangements. I do know that people who are unsheltered face physical health, mental health, and safety concerns. I know Summer is on its way. There is a study that demonstrates displacing unsheltered people negatively impacts their health.

I also know that the impacts on our neighborhood are real, and deep. What I can guess is that displacing people from one neighborhood will mean they move to another neighborhood. And that solves nothing.

I don’t write this to blame the “city.” I don’t write this to blame anyone. I write this because we cannot “end homelessness” by shuffling people from place to place, unless the destination is permanent housing. And we can’t put an end to this awful, cruel shuffling without helping more people to stay housed.

Prevention, intervention, and housing. All are necessary. We are kidding ourselves as a community if we believe displacing people is a solution. This was true three years ago, and it remains true today.

As far as I can tell, none of us have a magic wand to miraculously create more housing, control rent increases, and prevent all housing crises. If I did have a magic wand, I would wave it and put resources into helping people to stay housed and into creating more housing with support and affordability in both rent and mortgage rates.


About the Human Services Campus

Founded in 2005, the Human Services Campus is a collaborative force of partner organizations united on one campus to end homelessness. Located just west of downtown Phoenix, 16 independent agencies on the Campus see nearly 1,000 individuals every day, offering a holistic range of client services including: reunification with family and friends; mental, physical and dental health; shelter; employment; meals; legal services and housing. Having all of these resources in one location with intra-agency communications makes it more feasible to provide a customized engagement for each client to help end their homelessness. For more information, visit www.hsc-az.org.

Share This