ARIZONA NEWS

Task force meets to address homelessness spike in Phoenix

Jan 29, 2021, 4:05 AM
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)...
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — A task force made up of neighborhood leaders, homeless advocates, city staff and service providers met Thursday to begin guiding strategies to address the increasing homelessness problem in Phoenix.

The task force will meet monthly to share ideas, help advocate for homelessness solutions at the state and county level and research evidence-based practices, new partnerships and funding opportunities, according to the Strategies to Address Homelessness Plan approved by the city in October.

It was estimated in January 2020 that over 7,400 people were experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County, 51% of which was unsheltered.

The number marked the third straight year an increase was documented, the fifth increase in the last six years, and before the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was estimated in late October that by this month an estimated 170,000 to 250,000 households in Arizona would be unable to pay rent and at risk of 150,000 potential eviction filings.

In response to the rising amount of homelessness in the area, a strategic plan was requested by the Phoenix City Council last summer focusing on strategies for people experiencing homelessness as well as developing the best practices to mitigate impact to surrounding communities and neighborhoods.

The plan included developing the task force, a group of 18 people appointed by City Manager Ed Zuercher.

“They are responsible and tasked, if you will, for helping staff develop what should be the priorities relative to implementing strategies that can help to assist us with addressing homelessness,” Marchelle Franklin, human services director for the city of Phoenix, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

Franklin said the group is aware of the city’s strategies to address the homelessness plan.

The 64-page plan outlines the city’s guiding principles, process, outreach and resources, and strategies for communication, housing, neighborhood and policy along with a focus on mental health and workforce development.

Strategy timelines are also included in the plan, with goals for the short term, medium term and long term, lasting anywhere from one to five years.

Franklin said the meeting Thursday set the foundation for future meetings.

“We have individuals coming from different segments of our community with different understandings of issues and challenges and the dynamics of homelessness,” Franklin said. “We took the meeting today to present on some topics to kind of put everybody on the same page.”

Covered in the first meeting, according to Franklin, included the definition of homelessness and fostering a shared understanding of available funding.

“What has been very unique about this task force is every individual who requested to be a part of it, of course, there were many … every one of them was on the call,” Franklin said. “Every one of them was very passionate, every one of them was engaged.

“We at the city are looking forward to the direction and leadership that is going to come from this task force and how we move forward addressing the challenges for those who are experiencing homelessness.”

The city of Phoenix spends nearly $20 million each year for services related to homelessness solutions, Mayor Kate Gallego said in the plan, which is spread across several departments.

An additional $9.6 million was added to the effort in 2020 from the Coronavirus Relief Fund Act.

The city used this federal money last year to lease a hotel where vulnerable individuals were housed.

Franklin added financial assistance was also provided to entities who had to shift service models due to the virus.

Along with the need for an advisory group, the survey in the development of the plan found additional funding and services are needed in affordable housing, mental health, supportive services, small specialized shelters and providing a service resource navigator.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Taylor Kinnerup contributed to this report.

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