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Maricopa County Working On Regional Approach To Homelessness

MARK BRODIE: In a few months, the Phoenix metro area should have a comprehensive regional plan to address homelessness. The Maricopa Association of Governments, known as MAG, presented an overview to the Phoenix City Council yesterday [April 13]. KJZZ’s Christina Estes listened in and she joins me now to talk about it. Good morning, Christina.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Good morning, Mark.

BRODIE: So, Phoenix has really been pushing for a plan like this, right?  

ESTES: Yes. Over the last year, you and I have talked about Phoenix leaders advocating for a regional approach to homelessness. They feel like the Human Services Campus near downtown Phoenix has become the place where other cities send people rather than offer services and shelters in their own communities.

BRODIE: Now, Christina, you recently reported on more beds being added to the Human Services Campus. And it took a couple years for the council to agree to increase the size of what was already the state’s largest shelter. What kind of discussion was there yesterday about adding new shelters?

ESTES: MAG’s Deputy Executive Director, Amy St. Peter, told the council the region needs a range of options. So that includes smaller shelters throughout the Valley so people can get services in their communities where they live. And here’s a way to think about it: If I lose my home and I have to move to a different city to get shelter and services, I may be leaving friends, family, my kid’s school, my job. St. Peter says if more cities across the Valley have smaller shelters, people will keep critical community connections and get back on their feet faster.

BRODIE: But what about larger shelters like at the Human Services Campus near downtown?

ESTES: St. Peter says they do have a place in the plan — the key though is recognizing that each location will have benefits and challenges and communities will need to plan for them.

BRODIE: Alright, so, I’m sensing a theme here — the 30 cities, towns and native nations that make up MAG’s membership need to be open to this plan and sort of willing to do their part.

ESTES: Yeah, I would say that’s accurate. Let me give you an example of how cooperation might look beyond a shelter scenario. Some cities, including Phoenix and Tempe, have misdemeanor repeat offender programs. So these are aimed at people who are routinely caught for low-level offenses that are common among people who don’t have shelter; things like trespassing, shoplifting or disorderly conduct. The program offers them the option to accept services to avoid jail. MAG’s Amy St. Peter says a consistent program like that across the region could make a big difference.

AMY ST. PETER: So, if law enforcement in one community is doing something dramatically different than their neighboring law enforcement department in their neighboring community, then that can simply move people who are experiencing homelessness from one community to another and not actually addressing what’s causing that homelessness.”   

BRODIE: So, Christina, obviously we’re talking about more services, more shelters, more housing options. Any sense of what that will cost?

ESTES: Not yet. MAG is collecting data from its members to determine how much each entity gets from different sources and how much each community spends on homelessness and housing. St. Peter told the Phoenix council that MAG is committed to making sure there’s a solid financial plan in place for the long term. She also said MAG will hold themselves accountable by monitoring progress and making adjustments as needed. And when it comes to other cities, accountability is a concern for Phoenix’s City Manager. Take a listen.

ED ZUERCHER: If we all say, “Yes, we need to disperse shelters and services so they’re not focused in one particular part of the region or a couple,” but then when the time comes for a community who doesn’t have the services or the shelters currently, when the time comes for them to put money and rezoning and face their own neighbors with those questions in their community, what happens if they say, “Nah, we’re not going to do it?”

ESTES: The answer right now is they don’t know beyond peer pressure and holding each other to their word, but MAG is thinking about it. And certainly Phoenix leaders are, too.

BRODIE: Alright, so MAG is finalizing the strategies of this plan. What is the timetable?

ESTES: The plan is expected to go before MAG’s regional council in May for approval — with a step by step action plan ready to go by August.

BRODIE: Alright, we’ll keep an eye out for that. That is KJZZ’s Christina Estes. Christina, thanks.

ESTES: You’re welcome.

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As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.