Street Without Hope

On Madison Street, crowds of crack-addicted homeless are plaguing police and downtown businesses. But no one seems to be doing much about it.

"We know there's a great need for this, not just downtown here but throughout the Valley. This is a regional problem. And it demands that kind of regional thinking."

Yet relatively little money for homeless services in the Phoenix area comes from regional authorities--the state, the county and the city. Most comes from the federal government, in the form of competitive grants.

In the past year, the city initiated a federally funded program specifically targeting substance abusers downtown. Called Another Chance, it's a joint venture of the county's Health Clinic for the Homeless and META Services, a private firm that runs the L.A.R.C. (Local Alcohol Reception Center) detoxification facility.

The program will spend about $3.1 million over three years to treat a minimum of 360 people.

Social services providers just completed the annual process of ranking local grant requests to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for the 1999-2000 budget year. They say this year's cycle has been particularly brutal. More than 15 public and private agencies vied for what's likely to be about $8 million; their initial requests had totaled $26 million.

About $21 million of that $26 million "need" came from groups, including the state Department of Commerce, that provide housing for the state's "seriously mentally ill," or SMI in government lingo. That housing helps the state fulfill its obligations from a 1985 court ruling that requires Arizona to beef up services for its SMI population.

Advocates say state and local government reliance on federal money to do its social dirty work have led to enormous gaps in essential services for the chronically homeless. Little money is left after the SMI dollars are spent for providers of substance abuse treatment and other non-SMI services.

The money-scrounging process has pit one needy cause against another. And it has left the police, the businesses and people on Madison Street or Buckeye Road wondering if they will ever receive the support they need.

Contact Edward Lebow at his online address:

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