Phoenix offers CASS homeless shelter $4.4 million — with stipulations

By Christina Estes
Published: Thursday, June 15, 2023 - 7:52am
Updated: Thursday, June 15, 2023 - 9:09am

shelter blankets
Jackie Hai/KJZZ
Phoenix said its funding covers 17% of CASS’s operating expenses

If Arizona's largest emergency homeless shelter wants to keep getting money from Phoenix, it will need to be more transparent. 

On Wednesday, as the City Council discussed a $4.4 million contract to support Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS), Councilwoman Ann O’Brien said she hasn’t seen enough progress over the past two years.

“When I first joined the council there was a vote to pay a bill that was over a million dollars in damages on a hotel that we leased out in partnership with them to offer shelter during the pandemic, and last fall they overestimated their available budget and came to us asking for more operational funds, threatening to shut down if we didn’t provide them,” she said.

O’Brien requested the city get a non-voting seat on CASS’s board so leaders would know what information CASS’s leadership is providing the board.

“We provide millions of dollars every year to CASS, yet we don't truly know what is going on,” O’Brien said.

"We provide millions of dollars every year to CASS, yet we don't truly know what is going on."
— Councilwoman Ann O'Brien

She requested Wednesday’s vote be pushed to June 28 while the contract was reworked to include monthly budget reports from CASS, along with access to its annual financial plan and financial reports of board members.

“To be honest, I’m a little taken aback by this,” said Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari, who represents District 7 where CASS is located. “With all of the different issues going on and with the homeless crisis that we have, I think delaying a contract for a 600-bed shelter that is vital and full every night is a huge mistake.”

O’Brien said she requested data from CASS to demonstrate positive outcomes but did not receive it.

"I think delaying a contract for a 600-bed shether that is vital and full every night is a huge mistake."
— Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari

“It didn't appear that the wraparound services that need to be provided to this population as being provided. I know that our staff has made some forward progress but as a major investor and client of CASS my hope is that the city of Phenix would be able to have a more positive working relationship with them moving forward," said O’Brien.

Gina Montes, deputy city manager, said the working relationship between Phoenix and CASS has improved "leaps and bounds" since last year.

“We had recommended that we have some staff that do some observations at different times of the day and night and be able to provide them feedback on the services and work in partnership with them,” she said. 

The council unanimously voted to offer CASS an annual contract up to $4.4 million to begin July 1, 2023, with the following stipulations:

  1. The city’s Office of Homeless Solutions staff will be able to conduct observations day and night of ongoing operations at the single-adult shelter.
  2. Monthly meetings to review performance outcomes and indicators.
  3. Transparency in finances where CASS provides monthly budgets.
  4. All CASS board of directors’ finance reports will be submitted to Office of Homeless Solutions for review.
  5. CASS will submit a financial sustainability plan for the current fiscal year.
  6. Phoenix will get a non-voting board member seat to be selected by the city.

If CASS does not agree to the stipulations, the city may change the language or withdraw the contract. Phoenix said its funding covers 17% of CASS’s operating expenses. No one from CASS attended the council meeting.

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