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Regional plan sparks new momentum to end homelessness

Homeless tents in Phoenix
Posted at 6:08 PM, Jul 01, 2021

PHOENIX — With more than 200 people per day moving to Maricopa County, evictions looming, and homelessness increasing in the Valley faster than anywhere else in the nation, housing instability is at a tipping point for many Arizonans.

“All of these dynamics are working against ending and preventing homelessness,” said Amy Schwabenlender, executive director of the Human Services Campus which serves as the entry point for homelessness services.

But with new money and new effort, she is hopeful that new solutions are on the horizon.

“I think there's a lot of new momentum right now,” she said.

The Point In Count done in January 2020 showed more than 7,400 people in cities and towns around Maricopa County were experiencing homelessness and more than half of them were living on the streets or in their cars.

That was a total increase of 805 people. As Arizona’s largest city, Phoenix counted the highest number of people who were unhoused, but an increase was seen in nearly every city in the county.

It’s a reality that has forced decision-makers throughout the region to face the growing crisis together.

Over the past year, the Maricopa Association of Governments, along with the Regional Collaborative on Homelessness came up with 14 strategies with the goal of reducing homelessness faster.

Some of the ideas include:

-increasing the building of affordable housing

-expanding homelessness prevention and supports for people who recently lost housing

-municipalities pooling their money to create a flexible fund that can be spent on necessities outside of rent

-creating more temporary housing

-more access points for services and

-smaller specialized shelters dispersed around the Valley

You can see an explanation for all of the strategies here.

Schwabenlender says she is grateful for the planning, but now that it is complete, “I want to see action,” she told ABC15.

Stakeholders, cities, and the county are currently figuring out which ideas they can implement and how much it will cost. That information is expected to be released in the fall.

The good news is money may be less of an issue with the hundreds of millions of American Rescue Plan Act dollars that are coming into the state specifically to fund homelessness and housing solutions.

Schwabenlender said putting a plan into action and having it actually work will require more than money.

“It's possible to end and prevent homelessness,” she said. “So much of it is about the political will to have the courage to make decisions that maybe not everyone is happy with. It's the right thing to do to ensure that people have a safe place to sleep and to have permanent affordable housing. It takes courage to make some of the decisions.”