"The East Lot is going to continue as long as we need it."
That's the message Bruce Liggett, director of the Maricopa County Human Services Department, wants to make loud and clear.
He's aware of the rumor that the Central Arizona Shelter Services, the nonprofit that manages the Men's Overflow Shelter and adjacent East Lot in downtown Phoenix, is abandoning the property soon. But, he and others emphasize, it's just a rumor. "Nobody needs to ring an alarm."
"It is totally false that they're closing down the East Lot with nowhere for people to go," adds Mike McQuaid, president of the Human Services Campus Board of Directors. "There will be a plan announced very soon about how we can get everyone into an air-conditioned building."
The "plan" he's referencing will be the outcome of a small, high-powered group comprised largely of those who fund many of the programs and services for the homeless. (In addition to McQuaid and Liggett, some of the other members include Deputy City Manager Deanna Jonovich, Moe Gallegos from Phoenix Human Services, Mike Trailor from the Arizona Department of Housing, and Amy Schwabenlender from Valley of the Sun United Way.)
The group has met almost every day during the last few weeks to figure out an East Lot alternative, and while they have yet to lock-down a plan, they're getting close. "We're obviously feeling a sense of urgency," Liggett says, mentioning the upcoming heat. The discussion, he adds, has focused on three types of solutions.
The long-term solutions include using the data collected from a recent needs assessment of those in the MOS and East Lot to increase rapid-rehousing programs, permanent supportive housing measures, and programs to prevent homelessness. The assessment was successful and helpful, Liggett says because "before we commit to any program, we need to know what's out there, and what peoples' needs are."
The medium-term solution is to establish a low-demand shelter that would be similar to the MOS, but far nicer, Liggett explains. Late last week more than a dozen people--many of whom are part of the above-mentioned group--traveled to Seattle learn about a successful low-demand, low-security emergency shelter model. Liggett called it "a very impressive program" and said the group "got some good advice about a different [shelter] philosophy."
But it's really the short-term, or the immediate, solutions that have many in the Phoenix community worried. McQuaid and Liggett say they are hoping to open buildings (with AC, restrooms, and bedding) on the Human Services Campus until the low-demand shelter, or a better interim solution is put in place. "If we can find better options with the resources we have, we're going to do it," Liggett tells New Times. "And in the meantime, the people will still have the parking lot to go to."
According to McQuaid, many of the entities currently funding the East Lot and soon-to-be-closed MOS support this transition process and have promised their continued support. He predicts people will able to move inside by early May, though "the exact timing, the staffing, and the operation of this plan is still being formulated and completed."
Last week, New Times reported on the budget shortfall facing CASS' operation at the East Lot, and the fact that CASS and the county have yet to resign the lease for the property. While Liggett and McQuaid can't comment on CASS' budget, both say they're confident that funding for the property will continue until a better solution is in place. (Mark Holleran, CEO of CASS has said he's optimistic about a funding solution.)
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As for the fact that the lease is up June 30, Liggett says that's not unusual or any cause for concern. "We didn't sign last year's contract until October, and it was backdated from July." His point being, no one needs to panic.
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