Crack Addicts, Political Shenanigans and Indian Relics

Only in Phoenix is this a formula for a real estate hustle

The county, however, has yet to seriously consider such a design, although that may change, says facilities management director Hintz.

"Those are very real design options that ought to be looked at," he says.

Calls to BPLW seeking comment on its plans were not returned.

Bruce Reade
Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Don Stapley's business friend owns land the county is condemning for a homeless services project.
Paolo Vescia
Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Don Stapley's business friend owns land the county is condemning for a homeless services project.

Urban said BPLW's plans are continuing to evolve.

"We expect to have something worked out in the next six weeks," Urban says.

By that time, the plans may have to include one less provider.

Andre House has several concerns about being included in the project. Its board of directors, located in South Bend, Indiana, has not yet approved the collaboration.

The board has imposed several stipulations that must be met. Andre House wants to control its own land and building with a separate entrance to the street. The charity also wants to set its hours of operation and have final say over building design.

So far, the county, Father Krueger says, appears willing to meet these demands.

In addition, Father Krueger says, the Andre House is strongly opposed to any plan that includes building a "solid block wall around the campus" that would discourage people from coming to the facility.

This stipulation may be a little more problematic. The preliminary BPLW plans show solid walls interspersed with security gates surrounding most of the site.

"If they are looking at building something like a compound, I wouldn't want anybody like my mother or my sister in a place like that," Krueger says.

The county's homeless project coincides with the rapid expansion of county administrative facilities that soon will encroach on an area of downtown that is a no man's land of drug dealers, hookers and the homeless.

The county is nearing completion of a new morgue and parking lot that abuts St. Vincent de Paul's charity dining room at Ninth Avenue and Madison Street, where hundreds of homeless congregate daily to eat free lunches.

The county plans to begin work next year on a 20-story administration tower at Seventh Avenue and Jefferson Street that will provide a panoramic view featuring a thousand or so homeless people shuffling between two soup kitchens, a 400-bed shelter and a free health clinic.

County officials have not hidden concerns about employees traversing the drug-infested area where homeless sleep in alleyways and defecate on sidewalks.

"I'm not going to deny that county and state development were catalysts for building a homeless campus," Supervisor Wilcox says.

Streets leading into the homeless zone are routinely posted with "road closed" barricades. Anyone driving through the area is inevitably approached by drug dealers openly selling crack. Hookers work the street providing sexual favors for as little as $5 -- just enough to buy another hit of crack. (The area has the highest syphilis rate in the city.)

The traffic barriers create Phoenix's own version of a West Bank refugee camp -- a place outsiders must tread with care and where police travel only in pairs. Police say the barriers have greatly reduced nighttime traffic into the area seeking to buy drugs.

The homeless wandering the streets of downtown Phoenix tend to be a very hard-core group of people who will need intensive treatment to reintegrate them into society.

An amalgamation of the seriously mentally ill, recently released prisoners from the county jail and state prison, drug addicts, drunks, prostitutes, veterans, undocumented workers, the crippled and the unlucky mingle in a loose confederation.

Many become targets of predators who stalk the homeless seeking opportunities to sell drugs, mug and steal.

The battalion of homeless routinely traverses a bleak four-block circuit starting at St. Vincent's for lunch, Andre House for dinner, the Healthcare Clinic for the Homeless for occasional medical treatment and Central Arizona Shelter Services for a nighttime cot and a shower.

CASS, however, only has room for 400 men and women each night, leaving hundreds to sleep wherever they feel safe from each other and the police.

The dreadful march has persisted for two decades, triggered by a deep recession in the late 1970s, the destruction of several thousand low-income hotel rooms in downtown Phoenix and the Reagan administration's policy of kicking the seriously mentally ill out of institutions and onto the streets.

With no place to go and no services to assist, Phoenix homeless built a tent city, prompting a 1983 Newsweek cover story with a headline declaring Phoenix to be a "city without a heart."

The city of Phoenix opened CASS the next year to serve as a temporary 400-bed homeless shelter.

Nineteen years later, the wretched stomping grounds of the downtown homeless are finally attracting the attention of Phoenix business leaders and Maricopa County elected officials.

Homeless campus proponents say the project will replace dilapidated homeless service structures spread across a four-block area where the homeless now receive shelter, meals and health care.

The campus, they say, will serve as a "gateway" where homeless can quickly find jobs and housing elsewhere in the region.

More important, proponents say, the homeless campus will clear the way for redevelopment of the area that lies within the Capitol Mall region. Investment in the Capitol Mall -- which stretches from Seventh Avenue to the state Capitol -- has become a high priority for powerful downtown business interests led by the Phoenix Community Alliance, which is chaired by Jerry Colangelo.

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