Plan Solidified for Maricopa County Homeless: Housing Vouchers and an East Lot Alternative

It's official: the final portion of $2.5 million requested by a small group of dedicated city/county officials, along with the Valley of the Sun United Way, to fund rapid re-housing vouchers for 250 homeless men and women received unanimous approval Tuesday by the Maricopa County Industrial Development Authority.

The group requested $1 million from the county and city of Phoenix IDAs--the latter passed a unanimous motion to grant the funding last Thursday. The other half-million dollars comes from the United Way, and collectively, the money is slated to help house more than half the population currently sleeping in the East Lot.

As expressed in a Facebook comment by Steve Gallardo, homeless advocate and member of the county Board of Supervisors, the county's "contribution, along with that of our partners, will make this project possible. Finding a regional solution against homelessness and hunger will continues to be one of my top priorities. This is a vital first step however much more needs to be done."

Bruce Liggett, director of the county Human Services Department, echoes his enthusiasm: "It's exciting that we got formal approval. The mayor's press release [last month] announced we were pursuing it...and now we have the $2.5 million to move forward."

Liggett confirmed that starting May 15, the day room at the Lodestar Day Resource Center and the dining room at St. Vincent de Paul will remain open overnight to provide a safe, air-conditioned alternative to the East Lot.

See also: -As Overflow Shelter in Downtown Phoenix Closes, New Homeless Plan Emerges -Huge Homeless Overflow Shelter Closing, and County Has No Plan for Displaced Men

"We're negotiating a contract now with the people form LDRC to be responsible for the people in the parking lot," Liggett says. The Central Arizona Shelter Services is currently responsible, and has been since the Men's Overflow Shelter opened a decade ago.

LDRC will hold the primary contract with the county, but the non-profit is expected to negotiate sub-contracts with other groups on the Human Services Campus--like St. Vincent de Paul--to help provide overnight space, staffing, and services. The budgetary details are still getting hammered out, but it's likely that the $300,000 the Central Arizona Shelter Services currently receives from the county and state to fund the now-defunct Men's Overflow Shelter and East Lot will be diverted to this new operation.

The Maricopa Alliance for Shelter and Housing, a local grassroots organization spearheading activism to address Phoenix's homelessness crisis, expressed mixed feelings when the word of the LDRC shelter proposal first surfaced.

"We're very excited to hear that [LDRC] will make space available for those who need shelter during this upcoming summer season," the group wrote in a statement. "Again, we have questions: How many can be accommodated [demand can be up to 600 people]? Will everyone be able to access shelter or only those who have a CASS ID? What happens to those who cannot or will not obtain CASS ID [those seriously mentally ill or who are sex offenders]?"

According to Liggett, the number of people staying in the East Lot has hovered around 400 recently. So assuming 250 of individuals will get shelter through rapid re-housing vouchers, that leaves about 150 people. He estimates that the LDRC and St. Vincent de Paul have space for up to 200 people, adding there are no specific plans to close the East Lot, but they don't anticipate having a need for it.

The population staying in the lot does fluctuate--unpredictably so--and some CASS employees warn that warmer weather often means people are more irritable, making for an even more unpredictable situation.

As for the other questions about who will be allowed in the new spaces, New Times was not able to get a definitive answer. In the past, however, we've reported on efforts being made to ensure that lacking a Human Service's Campus ID doesn't preclude anyone from accessing services. And as of last week, the campus Welcome Center is permanently open until 9 p.m.

Underpinning these changes are two major shifts in how the county approaches homeless. The first is an effort to more seriously adopt a housing-first solution--putting $2.5 million toward rapid re-housing--and the second comes with changing the emphasis of emergency-shelter management from security to services.

No more off-duty police officers and private security guards. Instead, "engagement specialists will be working with these clients in an effort to help them to receive [rapid re-housing] or other services as needed," Mike McQuaid, president of the Human Service Campus Board of Directors, writes in an e-mail to New Times.

The LDRC plans to staff these new spaces with qualified specialists and case managers: "we're moving to a new model that has professional human services staff with built-in security," Liggett says. It is his understanding that the goal is to have two staff members in each overnight space, plus a caseworker. A representative from LDRC could not be reached for comment.

But again, Liggett emphasizes, all of these details won't be finalized "until we negotiate the contract and get it approved by the [Board of Supervisors]."

He is confident this will happen soon. "We're on a roll," he says.

Got a tip? Send it to: Miriam Wasser.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX. Follow Miriam Wasser at @MiriamWasser.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser