Last year, the total number of unsheltered persons in Maricopa County was up 149 percent from 2014, according to the Arizona Department of Economic Security.
And while the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reports that homelessness in Arizona has fallen 35 percent over the past seven years, the number of individuals who were categorized as chronically homeless increased by 136 statewide between 2017 and 2018.
Former Phoenix Mayor and current ninth district Congressman Greg Stanton (D-AZ) accomplished a lot in regard to addressing the homelessness crisis but there is still more work to be done.
“Our homeless neighbors are in crisis every day and every night. We must call for an urgent and dramatic change in order to end homelessness in our community. We must elect leaders who reflect our intolerance to the current state,” said Brandon Clark, president and CEO of Circle the City.
Phoenix mayoral candidates Kate Gallego and Daniel Valenzuela joined Vitalyst Health Foundation, the Arizona Housing Coalition, Dignity Health, and other local leaders in a forum where the candidates discussed what they plan on doing to address the problem.
First, the candidates discussed other city programs that have helped combat homelessness. Valenzuela discussed Glendale Works, a program through the Phoenix Rescue Mission.
Glendale Works offers those facing homelessness the ability to earn wages and connect with services. It is focused on bringing “meaningful solutions to people experiencing homelessness, instill them with a sense of dignity and self-worth and give neighborhoods a cleaner and safer appearance.”
“5 hours, they’re paid for their time,” Valenzuela said. “But it does more than that, it allows people [to have] that sense of purpose because sometimes that’s all you need.”
Gallego talked about San Diego’s approach of involving business leaders and CEOs in the solution.
“I had the chance to speak with Greater Phoenix Leadership last week, it’s a group of many of the top CEOs [and] they have committees that address a variety of different issues,” she said. “I told them if I was mayor, I would challenge them to create a new committee focused on housing and homelessness. I would love to see more of the business elite in this community engage in this incredibly important issue.”
In 2017, there were 25,009 evictions filed in Maricopa County, one of the highest rates in the nation.
These evictions could be due in part to the current lack of affordable housing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that Arizonans need to make $18.46 an hour to be able to comfortably afford a two-bedroom rental home.
According to Gallego, housing is the solution to homelessness.
“It’s absolutely an important part,” she said. “We need to [ask] individuals what matter[s] to them. In my conversations, the one factor that seems to be universal is a good, stable housing situation.”
She mentioned that when she spends time at the Human Services Campus, many of the individuals tell her that there needs to be an increase in stable housing, rather than crisis housing.
“We are in a crisis right now and we need all the levels of government to step up,” she said. “The city owns a fair amount of vacant land and I would love to see us marry that with nonprofits who can help us deliver affordable housing solutions.”
On the other hand, Valenzuela said housing is a part of the solution, but the main issue is giving individuals the necessities to succeed in life.
“It’s more than just a building issue, it’s a people, more specifically a person issue,” he said. “It’s about recovery. It’s about getting people on track… to actually get a job that pays more money so people can actually live in their hometown.”
In regard to the evictions, Valenzuela said that the city should examine why those families were evicted to address the issue.
“We have to get down to the root cause. We can’t treat people like numbers or stats. We have to actually figure out what people are going through, what their needs are, what their barriers are and help them move past it,” he said.
The election for Phoenix mayor is March 12, 2019.