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People, businesses deal with the impact of unsheltered homelessness

Posted at 8:24 PM, Nov 15, 2021

PHOENIX — It was just before 7 a.m. on a Wednesday, but Anthony Richardson had been up for hours.

He had been trying to be efficient by organizing and folding his belongings so he can drag them around the corner.

Richardson and his neighbors were on a deadline: at 8 a.m. the cleaning crew for the City of Phoenix comes through to pick up anything left behind.

"It's your belongings so you want to keep as much of it as you can," he said.

Police used to do the wake-up call about a half hour before, but a couple of weeks prior social workers with Community Bridges took over the duties.

Regardless of who say initiates it, the routine is the same every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: wake up, pack up, move, repeat.

Richardson and his fiancée are two of dozens of unsheltered people living in tents near the Human Services Campus in Phoenix which houses 15 nonprofits that provide necessities for people experiencing homelessness. It also houses the state's largest emergency shelter, CASS which is full every night. Richardson said he and his partner are on a waiting list for permanent housing and are camping while their names work up the list.

The cleanups increased from one to three times per week in April 2020, at the start of the pandemic and has continued at that pace throughout. Phoenix police is currently under investigation by the United States Department of Justice over whether they are violating constitutional rights in the seizing and disposing of items belonging to the unsheltered people caught up in the sweeps.

But this story isn't about that.

It's about the day-to-day lives of people like Richardson. And people like Bill Morlan.

His business Electric Supply Incorporated has been in the neighborhood since 1952. Morlan's family took it over in the mid-1980s.

"There's always been, you know, panhandling, there's always been people loitering," he said.

But he said the number of unsheltered people camping outside his business exploded in November 2019.

The increase in people has changed how he handles the outside of his business.

"I'm pretty regularly cleaning up human waste in the parking lot," Morlan said.

This year he said he's spent thousands of dollars in new security measures.

"People have cut through the fence. Broken in the air conditioning units in order to steal parts out of them or to steal copper. It's pretty much an everyday thing," he said.

But Morlan also spends much of his time trying to help with solutions by serving on the board of CASS. He also volunteers with a City of Phoenix taskforce that is helping to implement the city's strategies to reduce homelessness including creating shelters for people with pets and expanding permanent supportive house for people with significant needs that go beyond housing.

But these things take time. And in the interim, the neighborhood continues to suffer.

Still Morlan said he knows his situation pales in comparison to his unsheltered neighbors.

"For me, it's inconvenient. For the people are sleeping in a tent on the sidewalk, it's life or death," he said.

Outside Richardson and his neighbors were able to drag their things out of the way with time to spare.

20 minutes later, people were moving back into place. Long enough to get situation and prepare start the process all over again.

"I'll get some rest. You know, we'll do it again on Friday," Richardson said.