Amy Schwabenlender

The next time you step outside into Arizona’s blazing midafternoon heat, think what it would be like if, when you tried going back into your house, the door was locked. Then think about not even having a house to go back into.

Hundreds of men and women experiencing homelessness face that reality every day. It’s particularly daunting this time of year.

The 2020 Point in Time count showed 7,419 homeless men and women in Maricopa County the night of Jan. 27. Just over half (51%) were unsheltered; the other 49% were staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing or safe haven programs. That’s an 11% increase in the total number of people experiencing homelessness and a staggering 18% rise in those who were unsheltered from the year before.

The fact is no one chooses to be homeless. No one wakes up one day and says, “Gee, this is a good day to go live on the street.”

The how and why behind someone’s homelessness are as diverse as they are. Every day, we see about 800 men and women on the 13-acre Human Services Campus where 16 nonprofit agencies collaborate on wraparound services

and resources.

Our collective goal is to move as many as possible into permanent housing through individualized plans if we can’t reconnect them with friends or family when they first arrive. During the past five years, more than 10,000 individuals were assisted with permanent housing.

Sheltering all of these men and women poses significant challenges. Simply put: There aren’t enough beds. Each month, we turn away nearly 500 people desperate for a place to sleep. Getting a shelter bed is a critical step in helping move individuals off the streets.

Every bed at Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS), the state’s largest homeless shelter, is filled every night. Because of the need for social distancing in our COVID-altered world, there are even fewer available beds than on the night of the most recent PIT count.

Arizona’s blistering summer heat only makes things worse. People are dying.

In collaboration with Maricopa County officials and St. Vincent de Paul, we have taken steps to mitigate the heat-related danger by providing three overnight locations with space for several hundred men and women to find respite.

The city of Phoenix has opened space at the convention center for use during

the day.

Unfortunately, it’s not nearly enough to accommodate all of the unsheltered individuals in Maricopa County; a regional solution to homelessness must be

developed and implemented.

In the meantime, we are working to add additional shelter beds at CASS and the nearby Andre House for the men and women already on the Human Services Campus, and to provide for emergency overnight shelter during Arizona’s torrid summers and miserably cold winter nights.

To that end, we are seeking Phoenix City Council approval to add 275 beds to

CASS, which had 425 beds available before the pandemic and has a certificate of occupancy allowing for 700, and for Andre House to develop a new 100-bed shelter in an existing building. The request also includes an additional 200 overnight beds in the St. Vincent de Paul dining room or Lodestar Day Resource Center on the campus during extreme weather.

You can help in a number of ways (visit fromstreettohome.org for more

information). The next time you step out into the heat, pause, and then please take action. JN

Amy Schwabenlender is executive director of the Human Services Campus.

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