01 Apr Help for the Homeless
As I meet with community groups in our district, a common concern is raised. Residents have noticed a sizable increase in the number of people living with homelessness in their neighborhoods. I have listened to their fears for their personal safety and frustrations over trash in the alleys, people sleeping in the bushes, setting up camps on vacant properties, and being asked for money outside stores and at busy intersections. The results of a recent national survey reported the number of homeless persons in Arizona at near 9,000. Some community workers think that number is low; the Valley of the Sun United Way says that on any given day there are 6000 people sleeping in cars, parks and along the canals. Some people are recently and first time homeless, having lost a job, a foreclosure or eviction from an apartment, or had a health care problem that left them with bills they were unable to pay. Many others are chronically homeless, living on the streets for years. Many living on the streets and in shelters are families with children. Phoenix is one of the cities with the highest number of homeless youth, with 320 kids living on their own on the streets. We are also experiencing an increase in the proportion of homeless persons who are in their early 20’s. Agencies attribute the shift to younger folks to the increase in opioid and heroin addiction. So, what can we do to help people who have suddenly found themselves without a place to live and those for whom life on the street has been all they have known for a long time? In frustration, some have called for arresting people living on the streets or giving them one-way fare to other cities. I think that in our more rational and compassionate moments, we know that those are not good solutions. Homelessness is not a crime, so the police cannot arrest them. Even if a minor crime has occurred, the person can only be taken to the police station, booked, and will likely be released in a short time. Shipping the person to another town doesn’t solve the basic problem that led to the homelessness. I have been learning about this problem for a long time. I have attended workshops that reported on successful programs and I have done some reading on my own. I have learned that there are some good programs in our own backyard that have been making a difference in people’s lives. The strategies have several things in common and I pledge to apply these approaches when I am in the legislature. I will encourage and support partnerships among non-profit agencies, community advocacy groups, private citizens, and government agencies to address specific situations that lead to homelessness. Those types of programs use a coordinated approach to connect people with existing services, housing, and programs. They require a standardized process that will quickly and efficiently connect people in crisis to housing and assistance. I will work as a legislator to help agencies to maintain a state of the art data collection system, so we have local information on local problems to design and apply local solutions. This data system will also provide us with feedback on the results of our efforts for ongoing program improvement. For those suffering with opioid addiction or other substance use disorders, I will work to identify sources of funding for workforce training so there are enough well trained and licensed professionals available for people who need treatment, introduce legislation that mandates health insurance coverage for long term addiction treatment, and promote licensing of treatment centers that provide care that follows recommendations by national experts in drug addiction treatment. By using tried and true approaches, and forming community and government partnerships, we can end homelessness.