This article was originally published by AZ Central.
Opinion: Arizona lawmakers should invest in proven programs to house the homeless and provide affordable housing, not get stuck in punitive measures.
Mike Shore and Analise Ortiz | opinion contributors
Across Maricopa County, people continue to be driven into homelessness.
Human suffering is apparent in our parks and off our freeways. It will require a compassionate, multifaceted solution, and we can begin by investing in a piece of the puzzle that’s already working.
Consider the experience of an anonymous man we’ll refer to as “Jim.”
Jim is an Arizonan living with a mental illness who experienced homelessness. After ending up in the hospital, Jim was connected to direct service providers who helped him find subsidized housing.
With his immediate need of shelter met, Jim was able to receive support services from a clinic close to his house. This was an important part of his recovery that ultimately led him to gainful employment and self-sufficiency.
This model of permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing programs can provide stability for the many people currently living on the streets.In 2023, state lawmakers will consider new proposals to address the increase of people living without shelter in our communities. Here are three points to consider:
1. Expand housing-first models. They work
Housing-first models work, and we should expand this approach in Arizona while investing in wrap-around support services that will provide people with rehabilitation, workforce development, and educational opportunities.
Permanent Supportive Housing is an evidence-based best practice that couples permanent housing with mental health, substance use treatment, job training and other support services that participants voluntarily engage in after they have secured a safe and stable place to live.
Similarly, Rapid Rehousing quickly connects families and individuals experiencing homelessness to permanent housing through rental assistance and targeted supportive services.
HOM Inc. is an operator of these programs that have seen great success. In the past 24 months, HOM Inc. and its partners have housed more than2,400 individuals and families in Permanent Supportive Housing and Rapid Rehousing programs.
These households are now stably housed and living healthier lives with better access to education and jobs. Once back in stable and affordable housing, people are in a better position to address other challenges that may have led to their homelessness in the first place, such as finding a new job or attending to health issues.
We need more outcomes like this, not less.
Other cities that have expanded this model have had great success. Houston has reduced the population of people experiencing homelessness by 63% by using and investing in a low-barrier, housing-first model, coupled with zoning that allows building more affordable housing.
2. Don’t violate homeless people’s rights
Proposed legislation must not violate the constitutional rights of homeless people or lead to criminalization.
The City of Phoenix is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice and being sued by the ACLU of Arizona for its mistreatment of homeless people. The police have raided and seized the belongings of homeless people in a way that the ACLU claims violates the constitution.
In multiple recent rulings, including Martin v. Boise and Blake v. Grant Pass, federal courts have found that laws like Phoenix’s anti-sleeping ordinance amount to cruel and unusual punishment (and are therefore unconstitutional) because they criminalize people for sleeping outside when they have no other place to go.Yet, last year, Arizona Republicans proposed a bill that would force cities like Phoenix to continue to enforce these unconstitutional ordinances as a condition to receiving state-funding for “sanctioned encampments.” This bill wrongfully told cities that in order to solve the crisis of homelessness, they must use force and threats of arrest to concentrate homeless people into a limited number of camps.
Such a bill could return this year. Arizona lawmakers will have to consider: should we force cities to violate the constitution? And are we ready to be sued over it at the taxpayers’ expense?
People experiencing homelessness need care, not further trauma that comes with losing all your belongings, interacting with law enforcement, or getting a citation you cannot pay.
3. Cities must make housing more affordable
Without immediate policy change to empower cities to make housing affordable, people will continue being pushed into homelessness.
As we see the unsheltered population grow, we must open our eyes to the reality of high rent costs and increased evictions across Maricopa County.
Research suggests that housing unaffordability continues to be the primary driver of homelessness. A serious shortage of homes in Arizona coupled with some of the weakest tenant protections in the country has created a ripe environment for a housing crisis.
According to the Arizona Department of Housing, our state needs 270,000 more housing units to meet demand. Housing voucher programs are backed up with thousands waiting in line for assistance. In Phoenix alone, the housing voucher program has a three- to five-year waitlist.
Instead of looking for new ways to threaten our unhoused neighbors with arrest or citation, we should pass legislation to create more housing options for all income levels, especially for low-and middle-income people and families. We can do this through easing zoning restrictions, incentivizing the development of low-income housing, strengthening tenant protections and funding the Housing Trust Fund.
Mike Shore is president and CEO of HOM Inc., an operator of Permanent Supportive Housing and Rapid Rehousing programs. State Rep.-elect Analise Ortiz will serve Maryvale and Glendale in Arizona’s 24th Legislative District. She is a former journalist with a background in criminal justice reform advocacy.