Phoenix Mayor Gallego: 'Crisis Situation' Requires More Beds, State Support For Homelessness

By Christina Estes
Published: Tuesday, March 3, 2020 - 4:37pm
Updated: Wednesday, March 4, 2020 - 9:07pm

Debra Stark and Kate Gallego
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Councilwoman Debra Stark stands next to Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego as Gallego announces support for more emergency shelter beds on March 3, 2020.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego is changing course and now backing more shelter beds downtown. But her support comes with conditions.

Under current zoning rules, the Human Services Campus in downtown Phoenix can have up to 425 emergency beds. Campus partners want to add up to 575 more. In February, Mayor Gallego told KJZZ she wanted to let the zoning process play out but now says she will support more beds with certain stipulations.

“This is a crisis situation, and I feel that if I am going to ask other levels of government to step up that I need to show leadership and say this is a huge priority for me and I want us to step up,” she announced Tuesday. 

In February, KJZZ shared stories from business owners near the Human Services Campus at Ninth Avenue and Madison Street. They expressed concerns about the encampments around their buildings. Hundreds of people have been living in tents because there's no room at the campus or they don't want to stay there. Gallego said in order to support the more beds downtown she wants parameters to address health, safety and long-term sustainability.

“My priorities for the stipulations would include strong communication with neighborhoods, real investments in security and real priority on the facilities, particularly toilet facilities and bathroom facilities, which are among the complaints we have heard most strenuously from  the neighborhood,” she said.

woman sitting outside tent
Christina Estes/KJZZ
A woman sits outside a tent at 11th Avenue and Madison Street in Phoenix on Feb. 2, 2020.

The Human Services Campus and City Council must approve the stipulations, which are still being written. The stipulations should first be presented to the Central City Village Planning Committee and that is tentatively planned for its April meeting.

In a new release issued after Gallego’s announcement, the Human Services Campus, which is comprised of 16 independent agencies including Central Arizona Shelter Services, expressed gratitude for the mayor’s potential support of its request to add beds.

“Phoenix is among the nation’s fastest-growing cities and we are seeing more people on the streets, rising eviction and rental rates and a lack of affordable housing” said Amy Schwabenlender, executive director for the campus.

She also said the campus stands behind Gallego’s efforts to address homelessness from a regional perspective. In February, Gallego told KJZZ she wanted to see other cities, the county and state "step up" and contribute to a solution

On Tuesday, Gallego announced that Gov. Doug Ducey agreed to convene all mayors in Maricopa County for a summit on homelessness. 

“He told me he sees our challenges every day and that he wants to be a partner,” she said. “He is an important voice from my perspective in the regional collaboration. It is easy for the mayor who has 83% of the shelter beds in her city to say others should do more but if an elected official who represents the entire state is at the table and providing resources to help others should do more I do think that will help us get the resources we need.”

Patrick Ptak, communications director for the governor told KJZZ Ducey wants to make sure Arizona is doing all we can to get our most vulnerable access to resources and the assistance they need.

“This is a complex issue, one that can’t be addressed without also addressing issues like substance abuse and mental health,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re paying attention to all factors that contribute to homelessness. We believe there’s a strong willingness on the part of local leaders throughout Maricopa County to work together on this, and we look forward to partnering with them on solutions.”

Gallego also wants the state to make sure there are emergency beds throughout the Valley, especially for single men, and she wants to see emergency money added to the state’s housing trust fund.

trash outside tents
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Trash outside tents near Ninth Avenue and Jackson Street on Feb. 5, 2020.

“Before the Great Recession our state’s housing trust fund had over $40 million dedicated to helping low income families find and keep housing. It has now less than half that,” she said. “Our economy has rebounded. The housing trust fund should not remain an afterthought in the budget.”

Gallego pointed out state law prohibits cities from requiring developers to create a certain number of affordable units and she’d like that to change. Phoenix has seen many new apartment complexes being built in the last few years and very few are priced for people with lower incomes. A recent report that examined data from markets with more than 50,000 rental units found Phoenix had the biggest growth in rent in 2019.

On Wednesday, March 4, a procedural vote is scheduled before the City Council to approve having staff spend more than eight hours on a project. In this case, it’s a request by the Mayor for the City Manager to expand the city’s plan to address homelessness. Over the next three months, she said city staff will be reaching out to the community for feedback and input and she expects a plan to be presented to the council no later than June 1.

In addition, Gallego said she will request at least another $3 million in the next budget to address homelessness. That's in addition to the nearly $20 million the city spends annually through local and federal funds. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to include a statement from the governor's office and to update an incorrect meeting date provided by the mayor's staff.