Amy Schwabenlender

When you slip under the covers in your nice warm bed heading for a good night’s rest, what goes through your mind?  My guess would be thoughts about the just-completed day or what might be ahead tomorrow.

Most of us probably are not thinking how wonderful it is to even have a bed.

Meanwhile, at the Human Services Campus, we think about that every day. More than 500 people experiencing homelessness are turned away each month because there aren’t enough beds for everyone who wants one.

There’s nothing comfortable or warm about sleeping in an alley, on a street or under a bridge.

With support from the Phoenix City Council on Feb. 3, we took an important step in addressing the need for beds for the growing number of unsheltered men and women in Greater Phoenix.

Two years after filing our zoning request to add to the 425 beds currently available at Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS), the council approved an additional 275 beds along with 200 emergency beds for use during extreme weather to be located in either the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Room or the Lodestar Day Resource Center on the campus.

Unfortunately, the council rejected a 100-bed specialized shelter in a to-be-renovated building adjacent to the Andre House. The smaller shelter, with fewer obstacles to admission, would have assisted the most vulnerable individuals who may choose not to enter a traditional shelter because of significant personal challenges or who may have pets or too many possessions. Community Bridges, Inc., which specializes in services for people with behavioral health and substance abuse disorders, is on board to operate the program.

We are grateful for the support of Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and the city council and we were encouraged by their discussion to allocate more funding to address homelessness and move forward on the city’s proposed Homeless Strategies Plan.

As the lead of the county’s regional Continuum of Care coordinated entry system for single adults, we are actively engaged in efforts to bring all parties together to make it happen.

Key to that plan is developing a regional solution that includes additional shelters and resources across Maricopa County because, the fact is, homelessness is not just a Phoenix problem. There simply are not enough shelter beds across Greater Phoenix.

The 2020 Point in Time (PIT) Count showed 7,419 people experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County on one night, more than half of whom were unsheltered, a staggeringly unacceptable increase of nearly 20% from the previous year.

More beds in more places means more people off the streets, a best-practice proven critical first step in creating a path toward permanent housing. Last year, the 16 independent nonprofit agencies providing wrap-around services on the Human Services Campus assisted more than 2,500 men and women move from street to home.

But the number of unsheltered individuals in Maricopa County has increased significantly over the past five years, a trend we expect to worsen as COVID-driven moratoriums on rent and mortgage payments and utility disconnects come to an end.

And more people will die. During the first nine months of 2020, over 500 people experiencing homelessness in metro Phoenix died. Nearly 40% were 55 or older.

We are passionately committed to our unyielding belief that every human being deserves access to shelter, wrap-around services and affordable housing, of which there is an astonishing shortage not just in Phoenix but across Maricopa County. 

As we’ve said many times: homelessness is not a choice. How we choose to address it is. JN

Amy Schwabenlender is executive director at Human Services Campus, Inc. 

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