Crack Addicts, Political Shenanigans and Indian Relics

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

"You're not going to be able to make inroads on Capitol Mall unless you do something with the homeless," says Martin Shultz, vice chairman of the Phoenix Community Alliance and leader of the fund-raising campaign for the homeless campus.

Critics argue the campus is nothing more than an expensive plan to contain the homeless inside a sprawling compound that will engulf more than five downtown blocks. Despite the expense, the proposed campus provides no additional shelter beds and few new services than already exist.

This raises the prospect that hundreds of homeless will still have no place to sleep at night and will be forced to find shelter in the neighboring community.

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.

County officials are now considering a plan that would allow the homeless to sleep in areas inside the campus.

"That is a possibility," Urban says.

Residential areas to the south of the proposed homeless campus are opposed to the project saying it will only provide a cosmetic solution to the homeless by sweeping them off the streets during the day when workers are downtown, before they are turned loose at night to camp in vacant lots and neighborhood parks, says Grant Park neighborhood activist Julian Sodari.

Upgrading the current facilities, Sodari says, may attract even more homeless to the downtown area to take advantage of better facilities. There are about 13,000 homeless scattered throughout Maricopa County, officials say, with downtown Phoenix having the highest concentration.

"It's a terrible thing for this neighborhood," Sodari says.

Condemnation attorney Dale Zeitlin says he's looking forward to representing Cowley when a jury is convened to determine the price the county must pay for the lumber yard property.

Zeitlin declined to say how much his client thinks the land is worth.

"We'll let the jury decide," he says.

Whatever amount the jury decides, questions will linger over the timing of Cowley's purchase of the lumber yard property and what role his relationship with Supervisor Stapley played in that decision.

Stapley's undisclosed relationship with Cowley smacks of classic insider profiteering where personal and political friendships stand to cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

The political shenanigans set the tone for the entire project.

The homeless campus is deeply flawed because it offers no new beds or increase in fundamental services to deal with drug abuse, the seriously mentally ill and the routine release of prison and jail inmates -- including sex offenders -- into the downtown streets.

"The entire community is trying to find out how we are going to deal with this," says CASS executive director Mark Holleran. "We haven't been able to resolve this issue for 17 years. It may be another 17 years, unfortunately."

The seemingly intractable problem of assisting the homeless is also creating inflexibility among homeless service providers and a waste of resources.

Rather than agreeing to consolidate meal distribution to the homeless, two faith-based charities intend to operate separate dining rooms and kitchens within the homeless campus. St. Vincent de Paul will serve lunch from one dining room, while Andre House will serve from another.

There is one area, however, where the county appears to be moving in the right direction. The county has reversed its position to forgo archaeological testing on the site that is expected to turn up a treasure trove of pre-Hohokam artifacts.

Project manager Urban says the county will conduct archaeological testing on the site in August. Depending on what is found, additional field excavation work that could take several months may have to be conducted before construction on the homeless campus begins.

That is welcome news to homeless housing advocate Louisa Stark, who says the county could spend the $25 million on the homeless in far more productive ways.

"I think that is wonderful. I think that is fabulous. That will stop the bulldozers for at least a short period of time."

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