Tempe Police, Human Services, Public Works Among Homeless Outreach

Published: Monday, February 20, 2017 - 7:18am

Encampments of homeless people multiplied in Papago Park and other desert areas in Tempe last year. 

The city created an operations team that includes human services, public works, the court system and law enforcement to reach every person without a roof over their head in Tempe.

Last year, Tempe Police assigned a patrol officer specifically to parks to not only deter crime, but to connect people with other city services.

The city’s goal is to reach functional zero, which means the services available exceed the number of people who need them.

“We need to identify what they’re needs are and then hook them up with solutions for that,” said Commander David Humble.

Humble said officers give warnings for illegal activity such as urban camping and will issue citations to repeat offenders. The number of people arrested for urban camping tripled from 2015 to 2016 from three to nine people. Four people have already been arrested this year.

“The numbers have gone up just based on the sheer number of people who have made encampments in the park,” Humble said.

He said there’s been some concern from residents that people who are discouraged from city parks will move to other parts of Tempe.

“Just because they’re homeless, that’s not a criminal act," Humble said. "And the police department is going to focus on illegal behavior."

The police’s actions coincide with efforts by other departments targeting the parks.

For example, Tempe’s public works department reported it’s removed almost 40 tons of debris during park clean ups.

“When different departments come to the table, not in competition but in true collaboration, then we can really make the best use of our limited funding, our limited staffing,” said Kristen Scharlau, a social services coordinator with Care 7 in Tempe.

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