Homelessness is Not Healthy

 In Reflections
Reflections from the Front Lines

Homelessness is Not Healthy

There is no time to wait.

It’s been 24 days since my last post. Nearly 16 months of loss of smell, personally.

As I sit with the keyboard, I feel surprised that more than three weeks have passed since my last writing. Several times I thought about writing, and then, an interruption or a higher priority. I need mental space and enough alertness to write. Tonight’s the night.

This past Monday (Jan. 23) the HSC Street Outreach team counted 918 unsheltered individuals in our immediate neighborhood. More than 900 were sheltered in buildings on the Campus.

Shortly after my last writing which mentioned future big news for Human Services Campus, Inc. (HSC) the news became public. HSC was awarded $10M from outgoing Arizona Governor Doug Ducey! Holy smokes. I can finally talk about it. It was early December when I received a call telling me the request was working its way through the State process, and the information was EMBARGOED. I couldn’t talk about it. I was probably holding my breath for a full month.

So what does this mean for HSC?

First, it means we have an investment of American Rescue Plan Act State Fiscal Recovery Funds, or ARPA SFRF, or ARPA. These funds are paid on a reimbursement basis. The funds must be obligated by the end of 2024 and spent by December 31, 2026.

Second, it means based on the proposal that HSC shared with the Governor’s Office in March/April 2022 on ways to address unsheltered homelessness, we can use the funds on *new* strategies to serve unsheltered people in Maricopa County.

What is in this proposal?

  1. Safe Outdoor Spaces; outdoor areas with amenities of toilets, hand washing stations, potable water, and security. These are not forced encampments with threats of arrest if an individual doesn’t want to be in a Safe Outdoor Space. And this is not a shelter. A shelter has walls, a roof, a floor, electricity, heat and air conditioning.
  2. A transition facility in Maricopa County for Department of Corrections discharges similar to the facility in Tucson.
  3. Sprung Structures for easy access, and temporary shelter placed in areas around the Valley.
  4. Bridge Housing to utilize open motel/hotel rooms for individuals who are employed/ready for employment, waiting on benefits determination, or otherwise have a short path to permanent housing.
  5. Medical Respite facilities for individuals being discharged from hospitals, long-term care facilities, and rehabilitation facilities.
  6. “Safe Haven” -like model of shelter for individuals with serious mental illness or awaiting a determination of serious mental illness.
  7. Supported shelter for people with substance abuse issues. A place for short-term stays to detox prior to entering other types of shelter.
  8. Transition facility for youth ages 18 to 25 with specialized services based on their unique needs and development.
  9. Multi-Disciplinary Street Outreach Teams that work in specific geographic areas with representatives of organizations that specialize in mental health, physical health, veterans, youth and others.

All of the above being options/ choices, not mandatory placement for unhoused or unsheltered people. The total cost for all of the above with enough capacity to serve across Maricopa County might be $100 – $200 M.

$10M is fantastic. And we are now working with the State on an initial budget for most likely items 3, 4 and 9 above. We will need sustainable funding to continue these programs past 2024/2026.

There is an urgent need for more options for the unsheltered. Summer is right around the corner for us Phoenicians. Last year Maricopa County Public Health reported 1,191 “transient deaths” in calendar year 2022.

1,191

Homelessness is not healthy. We will not wait to spend this investment. We will spend it wisely, with urgency, and in partnership with organizations that also have resources.

And HSC will continue to seek support for our current operations. So please don’t see the $10M figure and say to yourself, “Oh, HSC is good. They have lots of money and don’t need any more.” The current work continues, and the *new* work will begin.

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.

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