More People, Tracking Needed For Phoenix Homeless Program

By Christina Estes
Published: Monday, March 19, 2018 - 8:26am
Updated: Monday, March 19, 2018 - 3:50pm

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Tempe homeless pets
Susie Steckner/ City of Tempe
Volunteer Melissa Rohrbaugh and Elizabeth Olisky, co-founder of the BELLA Project, assist during an outreach event aimed at people dealing with homelessness and their pets.

Four months after launching a citywide homeless response strategy, Phoenix is looking for ways to improve it.

The program is called PHX C.A.R.E.S (Community, Action, Response, Engagement, Services) and it’s supposed to serve as a one-stop shop. People call a number or go online to report homeless encampments and the city sends professional outreach teams to offer services.

Since Nov. 6, 2017, PHX C.A.R.E.S has received 1,073 reports. With just four outreach teams made up of two people each, that creates a challenge Deputy City Manager Deanna Jonovich told the public safety subcommittee last Wednesday.

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“It’s a capacity issue to be quite frank,” she said. “There are too many people we are trying to touch and follow-up with all at the same time.”

Responding to a report can take up to three business days and sometimes people have moved on. Getting someone to accept services can take multiple tries and then there’s the issue of checking people’s backgrounds.

Subcommittee Chair Michael Nowakowski said he hears a common concern among residents, “How do we make sure that all of the individuals who happen to be sleeping in our parks, maybe they’re looking at our children and we’re thinking that they’re just sleeping in our parks, but they’re actually setting up and preying on our kids.”

Of the nearly 1,100 reports, the police department was called to assist in 117. The subcommittee asked staff to consider ways to check for outstanding arrest warrants and criminal histories.

Homeless panhandler poverty
(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
A homeless man asking for money in downtown Phoenix.

“Can a layperson do that?” Nowakowski asked. “I’m not sure, so I think we need to start thinking outside the box so we’re not taking officers away from their daily duties.”

“I think that’s where the bigger conversation is going to be going,” Vice Mayor Laura Pastor said about background checks. “I think that’s where the type of system eventually we want to see.”

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Nowakowski and others acknowledged the program is new, “We have a lot of kinks and we’re fine tuning it and these are some of thing that have been brought to our attention and it’s really a conversation that we’re all having and hopefully we can fix it and create an example that people can take throughout the whole country and use it.”

When Councilwomen Thelda Williams and Laura Pastor asked where resources are needed, Janovich said the reports are coming citywide and they need more help on the outreach and navigation sides.

Navigation is used to describe the process where a designated person, or navigator, follows-up with someone experiencing homelessness by helping him or her complete paperwork to receive benefits, attend appointments, and handle other tasks to participate in services and find permanent housing.

“When we rolled out PHX C.A.R.E.S. the first month the calls came in pretty excessive,” Janovich said. “We’re now seeing a stabilization so we’re getting a better handle of how many calls we’re seeing on average every month, so we can get a sense of how many people we’re trying to outreach to within a month while navigate the current people in the system.”

Phoenix will hold budget hearings in April and the city council must decide how much to spend on PHX C.A.R.E.S. for the next fiscal year.



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