Let’s gather and strategize on the long-term solutions.
It’s happening. The movement of unsheltered people around the Human Services Campus (HSC) has increased and will be complete on November 1st. I want to do my very best to share this as information and not solely my opinion…. we all have very mixed emotions about what is happening, the how, and the why.
The City of Phoenix in response to a court order will have cleared the area of campsites, temporary structures, posts and chains, pets, and people. Signs are posted notifying people that camping is not allowed. The sign states under the City of Phoenix logo: This area is closed to camping to abate a public nuisance. If you are in need of shelter or services, please visit the Brian Garcia Welcome Center at 206 S. 12th Avenue. The Welcome Center is the “front door” to the Human Services Campus.
The HSC Street Outreach team counted 247 unsheltered individuals early this Tuesday morning, while 900+ were sheltered inside of four spaces on the Campus. The last engagement activity is Wednesday morning which will lead to the full neighborhood being posted.
As this effort has sped up over the last two weeks, the neighborhood is eerily vacant of people. It takes a bit of effort for me to recall that in my first days, weeks and months of working at the Campus, there were also no tents. People were not building structures. They did sit, sleep, and linger on the sidewalks. At times the unsheltered count was in the 400s. The population appeared to be more transient, people passed through and away, and possibly back again at a later date.
With the three-year pandemic, HSC’s two-year zoning case in that timeframe. With the increase in rents and evictions. With the health effects on individuals, the changes in employment, and the lack of wage increases to meet inflationary increases in the costs of living. With all of these dynamics the unsheltered number in the neighborhood grew to over 1,000 people at one point.
Living outdoors is not safe nor healthy. Living in a constant state of toxic stress, potentially threatened by criminally-minded individuals is not healthy nor safe. There are a number of downsides to living unsheltered. While our community has not had enough indoor shelter space for everyone seeking emergency shelter, visible unsheltered homelessness increased. This visibility and impacts on residents and businesses led to a more vocal demand of action from government, from the City of Phoenix.
The City cannot win. They are stuck between lawsuits and a Department of Justice investigation. Their Office of Homeless Solutions is staffed with people I have worked with for more than 10 years. They have hearts of gold, compassion, and the desire to end homelessness. And I believe they are doing the best that they can, given the myriad of circumstances they face.
We do not always agree on tactics and timing. Yet we have honest dialogue and strategize together.
The City has rented additional motel rooms and worked with partners across the community to provide indoor shelter. And they will open a Safe Outdoor Space (SOS), a campground, later this week. HSC is providing a component of the services to be offered at the SOS. These are all efforts towards creating more areas for people who are experiencing homelessness.
And this is one sliver of the overall homeless situation in Maricopa County.
There are 6,967 adults on the By Name List. These are people who have completed their intake and assessment and are waiting for supported housing (short-term Rapid Rehousing and long-term Permanent Supportive Housing). By the way, this is not the Section 8/ Housing Choice Voucher/ Public Housing List which is created and maintained by Public Housing Authorities for people who are looking for housing that has a rent subsidized by the government.
Lawsuits won’t move the needle on ending homelessness. Banning camping and declaring unsheltered people a “public nuisance” won’t create more housing and end homelessness. Placing all blame and accountability on government won’t end homelessness. As a community, being outraged about a 1,000-person encampment won’t end homelessness.
Perhaps we can take a moment to catch our breath, and then gather and strategize on the long term solutions. There are lessons to be learned from the last several years. There are definitely situations myself and HSC don’t want to repeat. I imagine that is true for our partners in this work.
People are counting on us. Thousands of them.
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.