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Phoenix touts more staff, outreach, cleanups addressing downtown homelessness

When the city’s current fiscal year began on July 1, 2021, the Phoenix City Council allocated more money to enhance services for people experiencing homeless downtown.

On Wednesday, hours before a citizen presented a petition to the council, city staff updated the Community and Cultural Investment Subcommittee on progress halfway through the budget year.

Phoenix has dedicated a neighborhood specialist to work with businesses and people experiencing homelessness in an area dubbed "the zone," where hundreds of people are living in tents outside the Human Services Campus.

Marchelle Franklin, the city’s human services director, said the specialist held a listening tour with neighborhood leaders, neighborhood groups and city departments. Several priorities were identified and an action plan will be developed in the next few months.

“Two hundred-thirty seven individuals have been contacted. Of which, 55 exited into various programs and of those programs, there were 42 positive exits which equates to a 76% positivity rate,” she said

Deputy City Manager Gina Montes said the city provided 300 solid waste bins to the Human Services Campus to be used for people experiencing homelessness to store their belongings and the campus began offering the safe storage program in December.

Recently, the campus also expanded restroom hours to 24/7 and Montes said the city is exploring potentially adding restrooms outside the campus.

Councilwoman Debra Stark suggested city staff work more closely with Maricopa County Health Department and Maricopa County Department of Environmental Services because they are responsible for "street feeding and vector control’." Rodents are a concern with food being eaten and left outdoors.

Phoenix has also increased street cleanups to three times a week. In November and December, Phoenix conducted nearly 40 street cleanups and collected seven tons.

Stacey Champion, an advocate for people experiencing homelessness, presented a citizen petition to the mayor and City Council requesting they act expeditiously on the 10 items listed below. City ordinance requires the council respond within 15 days.

  1. No further displacement of people or their tents during city "clean ups" at unsheltered encampments. Allow people to shelter in place, pushing their trash to the street for disposal, in accordance with the CDC COVID-19 guidelines for unsheltered people.
  2. Provide a sufficient number of bathrooms and handwashing stations for those living on the street due to the City's own lack of low barrier and regular shelter beds, transitional and affordable housing units and resources. These amenities were previously provided by HSC when the county lots were open, but were then taken away, and there are far more people living on the streets now. At least two "amenity stations" should be provided — one near the 12th Avenue camp, and one near the Ninth Avenue camp that are accessible 24/7.
  3. Provide access to clean, potable water at both amenity stations. Water is the most basic human need, and for hundreds of people, many of whom are older, take medications, etc. to not have 24/7 access to water — for drinking, cleaning, cooking, bathing — is simply inhumane.
  4. Remove chains and poles and No Trespassing signs to allow people more space to spread out, especially in light of the contagiousness of the omicron variant. There are many areas where these chains, poles and signs could be removed (like all along both Ninth and 12th Avenues) that would not disrupt businesses.
  5. Provide additional garbage cans/dumpsters and empty more often, as the few dumpsters in the area are often overflowing.
  6. Provide the people living on the street with push brooms, dust pans, cleaning supplies, large garbage bags, masks and hand sanitizer. Utilize the surrounding organizations like Andre House to keep/pass out additional supplies. (People ask for these items regularly.)
  7. Provide a safe, dry storage solution for people's extra belongings. I also know this was provided when the county lots were open, but was then taken away, so this would also be a good proactive measure to minimize the amount of "stuff" on the street.
  8. Reiterate to Phoenix Police Department the need to stop harassing unsheltered people as well as those who do street outreach.
  9. Install more pedestrian signage or additional measures to protect pedestrians attempting to cross Jefferson, especially at the 10th Avenue and 12th Avenue crosswalks. Cars are traveling at high speeds down Jefferson and are not slowing/stopping for those in the crosswalks.
  10. Be more open to creative solutions such as this. I would be more than happy to lead a project like this to help save/protect lives while the clock ticks on your new $2.5 million "sprung structure" plus additional shelter beds. People need relief now, and many cities have great examples of creative solutions that include treating people with dignity and compassion, unlike the city of Phoenix.
As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.