The Fourth Element

 In Reflections
Reflections from the Front Lines

The Fourth Element


There are fewer hours of daylight. The pavement is still warming up. The shadows are longer and seemingly darker. Timed lighting flickers on as the sun sets.

Personally, I had a second bout of COVID (the first one was in November of 2021). This time was not as severe, possibly due to the Paxlovid medication. Side effects from that were rough. There was a heavy-duty metallic taste in my mouth over the five-day course of medicine; the only thing that negated it was Propel-flavored water. I think my sense of smell is dampened, meaning the few things I could smell are gone again (other than smoke). And those are minor complaints in the grand scheme.

In four spaces on the Human Services Campus (HSC) we continue to shelter 900 people nightly. This week the HSC Outreach Team counted 471 unsheltered in our neighborhood; this number continues to fluctuate. This is the early part of the month, when people may have money from Social Security which allows them to rent a motel room for a bit of time.

The HSC team also manages the “By Name List” for single adults who are experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County and have been assessed for housing. This week there are 7,317 adults on this list.

When we talk about system flow, we are looking at the number of people who fall into homelessness and the number of people who move out into housing. For Maricopa County, the inflow is nearly two times the outflow. And the fact that 7,317 are waiting for housing paints a picture of how clogged the system is and how few housing opportunities are available. And, these numbers don’t include the data for families. While these are big numbers, as I have said before they are not outrageous, unsolvable numbers. We can do this.

I will be a broken record and continue to emphasize that if we want to reduce homelessness, we have to focus on three elements: one, on keeping people housed, two, serving those without a home, and, three, creating more housing opportunities. Focusing on one element will not reduce homelessness overall. I know “studies show” that multitasking isn’t effective, and in our case, we must. The good news is that there are many organizations that have strengths in one or more of the elements. No one organization has to do it all. And I don’t believe one organization can do it all. We can multi-task by sharing the tasks.

On a more human side, I will share an interaction that left me misty-eyed After having a day with unexpected news and changes, I was walking from the office building and heading out towards the Campus lawn. I was beating myself up a bit mentally. And as I opened a gate into a client area I saw a man sitting by himself with a notebook out. He appeared to be thinking and then writing. I paused as I walked by him and asked him, “How are you doing today?” He held up his notebook and said he was writing songs. He asked if he could sing something for me, and I said “Sure!” Never knowing what to expect… he lifted his head, closed his eyes, and quietly yet strongly started to sing. I don’t remember the exact words now, however, he opened his eyes and looked at me. He continued singing for a few minutes. I applauded and told him how beautiful it was. He grinned and thanked me. He said that he felt better and couldn’t believe I watched him so intently. I thanked him for giving me a ray of hope at the end of the day.

Data and facts are important.

The human element is perhaps more important. People are the numbers. More than 7,000 human beings waiting for housing.

The fourth element…. humanity.

Prevention, intervention, housing, and humanity. We can do this.

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

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