PHOENIX — Nearly 7,500 people are experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County, and on Wednesday cities and towns approved a regional plan to do something about it.
The Pathways Home regional action plan marks the first-ever collaborative regional approach to addressing homelessness and backers are hoping it's the starting point in a significant reduction in homelessness.
Major goals include:
- decreasing homelessness by 25% by 2027
- developing 770 new shelter beds and
- creating 1225 new permanent housing units where few currently exist
The plan is significant because, for years, access to homelessness services has largely been concentrated in Phoenix and, to a lesser extent, Mesa. Since the mid-90s Phoenix has housed the only entry to services at the Human Services Campus and more recently the Family Housing Hub at UMOM.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said the plan spreads those services out to various areas of the Valley.
"We want people to be able to stay where they are living and to get services, or if they lose housing, to be able to find one in the school district where their kids go to school," Gallego said.
The City of Phoenix has long bemoaned shouldering the burden of the Valley's homelessness problem. Eighty-three percent of emergency shelter beds are located within the city which spends $20 million a year on homelessness-related issues.
But the number of people without a home has risen in nearly every city in Maricopa County.
During Wednesday's press event at an affordable housing complex, Urban Living on 2nd Avenue, which was developed by Native American Connections, mayors acknowledged Gallego's pushing for regional action.
The effort has been spearheaded by the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), an agency made up of 27 cities, towns, and service providers, which acts as a clearinghouse of planning and policy for issues that affect the entire region.
MAG Executive Director Amy St. Peter told ABC15 that community support is just as important as the plan itself.
"I've seen firsthand where elected officials are trying to further some really important policies, and the public actually holds them back," she said.
St. Peter said the plan also includes a marketing campaign to educate the public about homelessness to try and mitigate pushback from communities where projects will be proposed.
"It's twofold. In part, it's the data, it's demonstrating that people experience homelessness from a wide cross-section of our community. That it can be someone loses their job, they have a car accident, they fall on bad health," St. Peter said. "The other side, those are hearts and minds. It's getting people to understand not just homelessness as an issue. But homelessness is about people. It's about our neighbors, whether or not they're house or unhoused."
That acceptance or rejection from a community could be the difference between people getting off the streets or leaving them there.
"We need the community to be supportive. That's an absolutely critical part of this plan."