Current approaches are not working, and are more or less the same everywhere. Simply throwing more money at the problem will accomplish nothing. As of 2020, San Francisco was spending eight times as much per homeless person as Phoenix does. Seattle was spending almost thirteen times as much. Does it seem like either of them are making any headway dealing with this epidemic of chronic street homelessness?
(For the best overview of the problem, I highly urge you to check out this series, called Seattle is Dying, by news station KOMO in Seattle)
Reverse the 80-20 paradigm where almost all of our resources are dedicated to the 20 percent of the homeless population that is most resistant to any sort of treatment or program that might help them get off the streets, and who are choosing to remain on the streets because the current system enables, rather than addresses, their behavioral, mental, and substance abuse issues. Focus instead on the 80% of the homeless population we can make a real difference for with a very small investment. These are often people you would never know were homeless, who are couch surfing, or living in their cars, etc., and – unlike the chronically homeless – are desperate for a hand up.
Enforce the law: stop giving homeless individuals a pass for the myriad petty crimes they are committing. If someone can truly live on the street without breaking any laws, fine. That’s legal and there’s nothing we can do about it, but this simply isn’t the case for most of the chronically homeless, whose behavior is degrading the quality of life for everyone in our city. Federal law prohibits us from placing them in treatment against their will, so throw the book at them, and then give them a choice: go to jail, or go to and complete an inpatient rehabilitation program for addiction, mental health, or any other issues they may have in exchange for expunging their records and placing them on a path to wellness through comprehensive housing, treatment, and ongoing support programs.
Create a new, closed campus for homeless services. The problem has outgrown our current facilities, and by being an “open” campus that allows for homeless individuals to wander in and out of the facilities at will, and doesn’t enforce any real rules (or the law) on them, we’re allowing our homeless population to destroy the quality of life of everyone living and working in the area.
I had previously conceived a plan to use the now empty St. Luke’s Hospital on Van Buren for this purpose, and Councilman DiCiccio made the motion to have staff study this possibility, but it was shot down by Mayor Kate Gallego and Councilmember Carlos Garcia, who appear to have ambitions of gentrifying the area, despite the fact that it is immensely hard to gentrify an area more or less directly adjacent to the Maricopa County Jail. It’s still worth doing. The hospital is still sitting there, and we will never have a chance to purchase a facility like this again. Better yet, if we move quickly, we could make the purchase and any upgrades with federal ARPA monies, and operate it in significant portion using Medicaid funding.
Reduce the cost of building new housing – this is explained in much greater detail in the section under “Housing."
Expand Project Haven – secure additional hotels that can be purchased and converted into both long and short-term housing. This is also a great way to expand shelter options for families and people with pets. It’s not reasonable to ask someone who has lost everything to give up on being with their family, or their animal family. We must have options that meet these needs.
Rather than continue to follow these failed examples, we need to change the system: