How Much Pull Will Phoenix Neighborhoods Have In Homeless Plan?

By Christina Estes
Published: Wednesday, September 30, 2020 - 5:59pm
Updated: Thursday, February 25, 2021 - 12:56pm

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

Some neighborhood groups in Phoenix are pushing to have a bigger say in the city’s plan to address homelessness. They presented several suggestions Wednesday to members of the city council’s Land Use and Livability Subcommittee.

The main message from neighborhood leaders is: We need a seat at the table now and moving forward. 

Bill Morlan owns a business near Ninth Avenue and Madison Street near the Human Services Campus, which serves thousands of people experiencing homelessness each year. In the last couple of years, he and other property owners have seen hundreds of people living on dirt and gravel patches along the curbs. 

“We need some kind of oversight for all of these facilities,” Morlan said. “Restaurants get inspected, bars have to have rules about what they do to the neighborhood they’re in. As far as I can figure out, there is no one who has any kind of responsibility for making sure that the service providers — as they try to do their good works — but to make sure that they're not having a negative effect on the neighborhoods and the people around them.” 

Vice Mayor Betty Guardado said she supports the idea of creating a committee to oversee groups that get city funding to provide services. That was one of the suggestions presented in a letter sent to Guardado and fellow subcommittee members: Chair Debra Stark, Councilwoman Thelda Williams and Councilmember Carlos Garcia.

The letter signed by Jeff Spellman said the Violence Impact Project Coalition is working with neighborhoods and businesses through Phoenix “to advocate for systemic change in the way that services are delivered to people experiencing homeless and in the way that neighborhoods are protected from the impacts from homelessness.”

The letter listed five recommendations to be included in the plan to be presented to the full City Council on Oct. 27.

      1.  The City of Phoenix needs to look at adopting the Mesa Model of addressing homelessness. This is a comprehensive approach that originated in Phoenix. It goes hand in hand with the ROP program for repeat offenders.
      2.  The City needs to put in place an independent oversight organization with authority over Service Providers working with the homeless. This organization needs to set and enforce standards on [things like] cleanliness, neighborhood impact, effectiveness, etc.
      3.  The City needs to formally involve the neighborhoods in finalizing and implementing the City Homeless Plan. The neighborhoods need a seat at the table as the plan is finished and moving forward. This cannot just be Public Comment periods at Community Meetings. It needs to be official and on-going.
      4.  The City needs to commit to an approach that prioritizes smaller, specialized facilities that serve the needs of those experiencing homelessness throughout the Valley. The days of the mega shelter are gone. We need multiple facilities that serve specific needs and have a smaller impact on the neighborhoods and a bigger impact on the clients.
      5.  We need a low-barrier shelter that will meet the requirements of the 9th Circuit Court ruling.

Lisa Glow with Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) told the subcommittee the Phoenix area has been in a homeless and housing crisis for a decade and with the pandemic it will get worse.

“Now we’re seeing projections that homelessness could rise by up to 30% in Arizona, national projections are up to 40%,” she said.

CASS is located on the Human Services Campus, a 13-acre property just south of downtown that provides three meals a day, along with a variety of services to help people experiencing homelessness.

Williams pointed out where she thinks Phoenix is falling short: “It takes a lot of case management and I don’t think we have allocated nearly enough to case management because people need a lot of guidance and support to get their life back in order.” 

Guardado asked staff to work with community leaders to refine the homeless strategies plan before it’s presented to the full council.

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