Thanksgiving is a time to pause and reflect on family and blessings. Part of that is focusing on those simple things that give us comfort and pleasure around the holidays: a place to call home, a hot meal on the table, clothing to keep warm and family and friends close by. As many of you know, some of our community members struggle to find those comforts we often take for granted.
About 800 people each day will access shelter or services at the Maricopa County Human Services Campus this holiday season. Some of these people just need a meal and a bus ticket to reconnect with family. Others need a place to stay for a week, and then there are those who are chronically homeless for a variety of reasons.
The HSC is located in downtown Phoenix and serves the homeless who flow through the gates from all over the valley and state. It was the first campus in the nation to combine non-profit, government, private and community services at one location. The intent was to reduce homelessness by combining both comprehensive and supportive services. At the HSC, individuals have access to shelter, food, physical and mental health services, dental care, employment, substance abuse programs and housing.
The people who come to the campus are assessed upon arrival to learn what their unique needs may be. Then they are sent to our partner agencies to receive those services and work on a plan to reconnect them with support, a job and a place to live. This evaluation process is much more effective than giving a person a hot meal and bed and hoping they figure everything out in the morning. The goal is to see them back on their feet and the array of services on the campus ensures that no matter what the need, it can be addressed.
With this in mind, I am thankful for the ever-strengthening funding collaborative between Maricopa County and other entities. The County, along with the City of Phoenix, the Arizona Department of Housing, the Arizona Department of Economic Security, and Valley of the Sun United Way, has been working to end and prevent homelessness. No one agency has the resources to solve the issue of homelessness alone and this unique collaboration has led to new partnerships, resources, innovation, and efficiency in our local efforts to solve this complex issue.
The current strategy to end homelessness is based on the simple idea that people need a permanent place to live. The campus staff is targeting the most vulnerable and most frequent users of community services. When we look at the totality of public services the chronically homeless use, we see it is more cost effective and more humane to provide permanent housing. It is more expensive when this group is thrown in jail for minor offenses, goes to emergency rooms and stays in shelters. Local and national data indicate homelessness can cost communities an average of $40,000 per person per year. In contrast, providing access to services and stable housing has an average cost of only $14,000 each year. Recent efforts led by the County and other organizations provided permanent housing for more than 500 people. Even more received assistance in finding permanent housing through partnerships with local non-profits.
While we may think of our homeless population more during bad weather or when moved by feelings of goodwill around the holidays, homelessness is a year-round issue. As a member of the Board of Supervisors, I am deeply honored and thankful for the opportunity to serve the people of Maricopa County alongside some great organizations who share a commitment to our community, including those who are homeless. Here is a list of our partners who can use your help to end homelessness:
Lodestar Day Resource Center (LDRC), Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS), Arizona Housing, Inc. (AHI), St. Vincent de Paul, Maricopa County Health Care for the Homeless, St. Joseph the Worker, Community Bridges, Inc., the Homeless ID Project, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which provides daily outreach and transportation for veterans experiencing homelessness.
I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving!
Denny Barney is a Gilbert resident and a member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.