By Denny Barney
GSN Guest Writer
The holidays are a great time to reflect upon how we can best help those who are less fortunate. And sadly, in Maricopa County, there are too many people who are struggling with the most basic of human needs: food, clothing and shelter.
At the beginning of the year, the Maricopa Association of Government’s Point-in-Time Homeless Count found nearly 6,300 people experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County. That number has been growing and increasingly includes young adults.
Each person has his or her own path to homelessness. Some get there because of some bad decisions. Others, due to a few bad breaks. From a wide lens, we can see mental health issues and the opioid crisis as contributing factors to growing homelessness. And as our economy improves, affordable housing can be a challenge even for people who work hard.
The question is: how can you and I give those experiencing homelessness the best opportunity to find stability and improve their quality of life?
Many families have a tradition of service to the homeless during the holiday season. Some people volunteer in a controlled environment such as the St. Vincent de Paul dining rooms spread out across the Valley (including in Mesa) and find that service to be rewarding.
Here’s one thing to keep in mind for those of you who give back in this manner: the need is greater on July 25 than on Nov. 25 or Dec. 25. Faith-based groups and nonprofits that serve meals to the homeless are always inundated with volunteers around the holidays but are often short-handed at other times of the year.
St. Vincent de Paul, for example, needs 250 people a day in 10 different locations performing 32 different types of service every day of the year. And they are just one organization.
Some people prefer to make meals or gather supplies and personally hand them out to people on the streets, especially at Thanksgiving. There’s so much care and love that goes into this type of giving, but there are unintended consequences. The reality is, there’s no shortage of meals for those experiencing homelessness around the holidays.
The sandwiches you serve on the streets can lead to excess trash, food-borne illness and safety issues in neighborhoods. In many cases, serving on the streets discourages people from engaging with nonprofits trying to connect them with housing and other services that can help them make long-term changes in their lives.
Maricopa County works with dedicated and experienced partners across the Valley to provide critical services to those experiencing homelessness. We look at homelessness as a regional issue and have partnered with local communities and nonprofits on solutions that provide shelter services, rapid rehousing, employment assistance and medical and mental health services to homeless individuals across Maricopa County.
Here in the East Valley, those partners include A New Leaf, Community Bridges, AZCEND and Lutheran Social Services. I encourage you to ask the organizations above and others providing support services in your community how you can best help their mission.
Not sure where to start? Visit GiveSmartAZ.org. This is the website for the Healthy Giving Council, a coalition of concerned citizens, faith leaders, social service providers, neighborhood stakeholders, businesses and others to promote healthy and sustainable giving year-round.
Maricopa County is a proud supporter of the Healthy Giving Council’s efforts to promote giving that considers what’s best for the community and the individual and which can help change lives for the long-term. Won’t you join us?
-Denny Barney is a Gilbert resident, a member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and president/CEO of the East Valley Partnership.