By Merl Waschler and Mike McQuaid
Recently, Mayor Greg Stanton announced that Phoenix is the first city in the nation to end chronic homelessness among veterans. This is truly a significant accomplishment and a huge step forward as a community.
As part of organizations on the front line to end homelessness, we congratulate the mayor on this achievement. We applaud his dedication to this important effort that is the first step toward a larger goal — ending all chronic homelessness in the Valley.
This goal is possible in as little as two years. Valley of the Sun United Way, Phoenix and nearly 30 other organizations have united with the goal of ending chronic homelessness in the Valley by Jan. 1, 2016.
Meeting our aggressive goal requires connecting more than 55 households per month to permanent supportive housing. This approach provides more than a place to live. It combines housing with medical, mental health, independent-living skills, substance-abuse treatment and educational and vocational services needed to ensure a permanent transition off the streets.
The impact reaches well beyond these individuals.
Studies show that while 17 percent of the homeless population in Maricopa County is considered chronically homeless, this group consumes upwards of 50 percent of available emergency-shelter and public-safety resources. By ending chronic homelessness, resources will be available for families and individuals who experience episodic homelessness due to traumatic life events such as a job loss or health issues.
Consider the economic impact. Our community spends an estimated minimum of $40,000 a year in emergency-room services, police calls and incarcerations for each individual experiencing chronic homelessness. Multiply this time years — even decades — and the potential savings achieved by moving individuals off the streets is substantial.
We know our goal to end chronic homelessness is possible because we’re already seeing success.
For example, the Tempe Pilot Project for Permanent Supportive Housing, which connected 35 formerly chronically homeless individuals with housing in 2010, has an 89 percent retention rate, meaning they stay housed. They reduced their visits to hospital emergency rooms and cut their average costs of outpatient services by nearly 80 percent. Tenants also demonstrated large improvements in economic and individual self-sufficiency.
One example is Gabe Hernandez. Gabe is a veteran who lived on the streets for 20 years before he moved into Tempe Permanent Supportive Housing. There, he received the medical attention he needed to get healthy, rebuilt relationships with his family and achieved his dream of working in the restaurant industry. Today, Gabe lives in his own apartment where his family gathers for meals. He is a proud grandfather and works in a Tempe eatery.
There are hundreds of people like Gabe. We know how to help them. Now, we need a communitywide commitment and alignment of resources to get the job done. Here are a few of the critical next steps:
Cities across the Valley must join Phoenix in prioritizing and focusing resources for chronically homeless individuals and vulnerable families.
The eight housing authorities in Maricopa County, multifamily property owners and private supporters must prioritize and focus their resources for the most vulnerable residents.
The Legislature should increase investment into the Housing Trust Fund and help ensure that veterans and vulnerable people have housing.
As a community, we must believe and agree that leaving people on the streets is costly and unacceptable.
Merl Waschler is president and CEO of Valley of the Sun United Way. Mike McQuaid is co-chairman of Ending Homelessness Advisory Council and president of JM Management.