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Navigating the Valley's homeless system

Posted at 6:44 PM, Jun 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-30 20:41:08-04

PHOENIX — Housing and homelessness advocates say the longer a person goes without a home the harder it is to regain one.

The objective is to remove as many barriers as possible to get people rehoused as quickly as possible but there are only so many resources to go around.

RELATED: Why is homelessness on the rise in the Valley?

And the only way to access them is through an intake process called coordinated entry.

"Basically, it’s like triage in a hospital,” Tamara Wright told ABC15. She's a former Co-Chair of the Continuum of Care Board for the Maricopa Association of Governments which is the agency responsible for coordinating federal funds to homelessness providers.

“We don't have enough resources to serve everybody. And so coordinated entry is trying to prioritize who we're serving first,” she said.

For families, the coordinated entry intake process happens exclusively at the Family Housing Hub at UMOM in Phoenix. That’s where Ebony Livas and her two small children sought emergency shelter.

“You can't be out there, you know, sleeping in cars sleeping at bus stops,” she said.

After a divorce Livas had been living with a relative in Tucson but said when the landlord found out, “she (the landlord) was gonna kick us out on Christmas.”

A spot opened up on January 1.

In 2020 UMOM reports that 2,300 families sought help at the housing hub. For some that was emergency or permanent housing, for others, it was help with rent, deposits, or utilities.

The average wait time for a bed was four weeks.

For single adults, the primary access point to get in line for those resources is at the Human Services Campus (HSC) in Downtown Phoenix.

“We have 16 organizations here doing over 20 different programs or services 365 days a year,” said HSC Executive Director Amy Schwabenlender.

Some of the services on campus include a kitchen run by the Society of St. Vincent De Paul, medical services from Circle the City, dental services from Brighter Way Dental, and help getting important documents through the Homeless ID Project.

Schwabenlender said that 800 people per day use resources on the campus. But, only a fraction of them can be housed at the on-campus shelter run by Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS).

“We turn away almost 500 people a month who are seeking shelter,” she said.

It was difficult for agencies to provide ABC15 with the average wait time for a bed for adults.

But for the County as a whole, there are 1,800 available shelter beds on any given night and at least 3,700 unsheltered people who need one.

“We need more resources in order to be able to like serve everybody effectively,” Wright said.

Livas is proof of what can happen when the resources reach the people who need them at the right time.

“They allow you to focus on you know, finding housing, and you know, getting a job,” she said.

With the help of UMOM as of a few weeks ago, she was able to secure her own apartment, got a new job, reliable childcare, and is saving for the next time her family is in a financially tight spot.

“Life has really been going great for us, like the past couple months,” she said.

You can find more information for help with homelessness services online here.