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 2022, Los Angeles County is spending approximately $250,000 per homeless person per year. San Francisco is spending $60,000 per year per tent to provide street accommodation for their homeless population. Does it seem like either of them are making any headway dealing with this epidemic of chronic street homelessness?
Rather than continue to follow these failed examples, we need to change the system:
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. One of the most heartbreaking experiences working in a council office is receiving a call from someone who just needs a little bit of help - a few hundred dollars for down payment assistance or someone to cover their rent for one month after they had suffered an accident. It would make a world of difference for a significant number of people but our current system prevents us from doing what we frankly have a moral imperative to do, which is to either prevent these people from becoming homeless in the first place or give them that little bit of help they need to quickly get off the streets.
Enforce the law: stop giving homeless individuals a pass for the crimes they are committing. If someone can truly live on the street without breaking any laws, fantastic. That’s legal. The goal is not to lock people up for being homeless but we must enforce the law and use the criminal justice system as an incentive - with plenty of opportunities for diversion - to get people the treatment they need to get off the streets and better their lives. We must be very clearly focused on recovery outcomes, not simply continue to attempt to warehouse and hide the problem.
Create a new, closed campus for homeless services. The problem has outgrown our current facilities, and by being an “open” campus that allows homeless individuals to wander in and out 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 have proposed a plan to use the now empty St. Luke’s Hospital on Van Buren for this purpose. Some members of the council appear to have ambitions of gentrifying the area, however, those plans do not account for the presence of the nearby Maricopa County Jail. Simply put, people are not going to spend a lot of money to live in an area directly adjacent to the largest jail in the state of Arizona. The hospital is still sitting there, and we will never have a chance to purchase a facility like this again. We need to move quickly, make the purchase, and work with federal, state, and other local jurisdictions to operate it as a valleywide substance and mental health recovery facility for our indigent population.
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.