Official Policy Release Restoring Quality of Life for Arizona: Tackling Homelessness
Homelessness in Arizona is increasing at a staggering rate. Homeless encampments, drugged-out and deranged individuals, and the extensive damage they are doing to the quality of life in our communities has spread far beyond our biggest cities, even impacting rural and mountain communities like Pine, Payson, and Flagstaff. Government programs and homeless service providers are not making the problem better. Instead, they have essentially given up and are enabling chronic street homelessness, drug use, and mental illness. They ignore the impacts on citizens, families, and communities.
This has to stop. We can have compassion for the homeless, but it cannot be at the expense of everyone else. Nor can we continue to pretend that a large part of the problem isn’t coming from people who are choosing chronic street homelessness as a lifestyle – or that our current system appears dedicated to making that choice easier and more comfortable.
This is just plain wrong. People have a right to walk into a store without being accosted or harassed. Mothers have a right to take their kids to the park and let them play without fear that they’re going to get stuck with a dirty needle. Families have a right to be safe on their streets and in their homes. Citizens deserve protection and safety from the state and cities they pay taxes too.
Right now, they are not.
I don’t accept that this is the way things need to be. We do not need to accept rampant violence, blight, and property crimes. We don’t need to allow homeless encampments destroy our neighborhoods and open spaces. We don’t need to treat people who are making life miserable for everyone around them with kid gloves. It’s time for some tough love.
As Governor, I will give the people who are choosing this drug and alcohol-fueled street lifestyle a choice: get treatment, go to jail, or get going. There are plenty of blue states willing to indulge their destructive behavior. Under my leadership, Arizona won’t be one of them.
We will have compassion for people who need and want help. We will do everything we can to get them off the street and back into society. But we won’t keep doing it on the backs of our citizens.
We’re going to get them off of our streets, one way or another.
I am proposing the most extensive, aggressive and comprehensive approach to addressing homelessness and providing real treatment and support to people who are willing to accept it anywhere in the country. They will have beds, treatment, support, and hope. Those who refuse will find something else entirely: a state that simply isn’t willing to tolerate their abuses any more.
Arizona must pursue key structural changes in our approach to homelessness.
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Numerous factors are contributing to the rise in homelessness, including a lack of affordable housing, inadequate mental health, drug, and alcohol treatment services, the expanding fentanyl crisis, cities and towns that take a lackadaisical approach to this issue and – unfortunately – a homeless services industry that continues to spend increasing sums of money (in some areas truly staggering amounts) not merely without appreciable positive results, but rather serving to enable and increase the number of individuals living on the street.
The results are devastating. Unheard in a debate that is often entirely centered around the plight of homeless individuals are the impacts on communities and families, as well as the damage caused to businesses and economic development. Many parts of America’s greatest cities now resemble third-world ghettos or favelas, with all of the attendant problems with crime, sex assaults, human trafficking, public drug use and intoxication, and institutionalized generational poverty. These impacts are destroying the quality of life for residents, and – far too frequently – leading to violence, including deadly violence.
We’ve shown we have compassion for our homeless population, it’s time we show some for everyday citizens and families. But that compassion cannot come at the expense of the lives of every day citizens and their families who are being harmed. In May, 2020, a homeless man, high on meth, marijuana, and alcohol shot and killed a man riding his bike close to where the homeless man was staying.1 In June, 2014, a homeless man attacked and killed a priest, badly injuring another one, the attacker had an extensive record of violence.2 In October, 2021, a homeless man living in the tent city that has sprung up in downtown Phoenix shot and killed another homeless individual living there.3 In August, 2021, a homeless man attacked and killed another homeless person in a cafeteria, stabbing him numerous times in a brutal assault.4 In November, 2021, a homeless man armed with a machete attacked and repeatedly slashed a good Samaritan trying to stop a robbery in a store.5 In March, 2018, a mentally deranged homeless man with an extensive criminal record entered the home of a couple living on Roosevelt Row with the intention of raping the wife, when confronted by her husband, the homeless man attacked and stabbed him to death while his wife hid under her bed, desperately pleading with 911 for help.6
These are only a few of the many examples of these types of crimes being committed by homeless individuals on our populace here in Arizona, not to mention the numerous attacks across the country which have made headlines in recent years. The common denominator in these crimes are homeless individuals with uncompensated Severe Mental Illness, Diagnosed Substance Abuse (DSA) issues, or a combination of the two. This represents the complete and utter failure of the current approaches being employed by the homeless services industry. Providers, despite being extremely well-intentioned, have become trapped by their own system and misplaced compassion. Rather than treating and addressing homelessness – an admittedly mountainous challenge - providers have turned to little more than simply enabling chronic street homelessness as a lifestyle. The result, predictably, is not a reduction in homelessness or success in moving significant numbers of individuals from the street back to normal life, but the opposite: by enabling chronic street homelessness as a lifestyle, providers and politicians are creating more of it. Simply put, the easier it is to live on the street while maintaining a lifestyle of substance abuse and mental instability, the more addicts and mentally-ill individuals will choose that path.
In 2017, according to the Point In Time Count7, Arizona had 5,605 homeless individuals, with 3,546 living in shelters and 2,059 living on the street.
In 2018 we had 6,298 total homeless, 3,680 in shelters and 2,618 on the street.
In 2019, we had 6,614 total homeless, 3,426 in shelters and 3,188 on the street.
In 2020, we had 7,419 total homeless, 3,652 in shelters and 3,767 on the street.
These numbers almost certainly represent a significant undercount of homeless individuals due to the difficulties of locating and identifying a transient and contact-averse population.
Further, there is no evidence that increased funding of the current system will reduce either the impacts on the community at large, or make any positive substantial change in the circumstances of these individuals as numerous states and cities across the country have dramatically increased funding in recent years and rather than reducing homelessness are only - expensively – creating more of it. California’s homeless population increased by 7% in 20198, even with massive new spending programs. While data for 2020 is not yet available, despite eviction moratoriums, rental & utility assistance and forgiveness, enormous hotels being turned into homeless shelters and more, estimates are that the homeless population once again grew dramatically. In 2021, Los Angeles – between state and local funding – will spend more than $23,000 per homeless individual.9
Washington State and the City of Seattle have likewise dramatically increased funding, with similarly dismal results. The story is the same in Portland, Oregon; New York City, New York; Washington, D.C.; and virtually every other major metropolitan area in the country. And recently, reports indicate that problems generated by this rampant increase in chronic street homelessness are moving well beyond traditional urban boundaries, with homeless encampments popping up in rural areas across the country, and here in Arizona.
Why is this relevant in Arizona? Because the approach of homeless service providers nationwide largely follows the exact same pathways due to federal rule-making, system capture, and some very poorly decided court rulings.
Getting Help & Getting Housing
The current provider-approved model to address homelessness is referred to as “Housing First.”10 This model separates housing from services, demanding that long-term housing be the first objective of providers, while placing no requirements on individuals to engage in mental health or substance abuse treatment, job training, or any other support services. Under this model, priority placement for housing is determined through a “Continuum of Care List” which each county is required to maintain. Priority is given to those who have been on the street the longest, and have either SMI, DSA, or both11.
Since no requirements around treatment or long-term support are included, individuals placed in housing via these programs routinely spend only a few months or a year in the provided housing, turn their living spaces into de-facto flophouses, and get evicted, all at significant cost to taxpayers. Once back on the street, they go right back to the top of the priority list. The result is that we engage in using the bulk of housing funds in a never-ending “wash, rinse, repeat” cycle that drains funds and achieves little or nothing. Successes under this approach are so rare, that the individual instances where it succeeds are quite often the subject of entire news stories of their own.
Getting one homeless person off the street and back into productive society is a personal triumph for that individual, but not in any way indicative of a successful approach to dealing with homelessness and the impacts it creates. This is the approach supported by federal policy, and it is an utter and unmitigated failure 12.
The alternative approach is to lead with services, making permanent housing a reward for actively pursuing treatment and engaging in long-term recovery and rehabilitative programs.
The 70-30 Problem
Approximately 30% of our total homeless population is comprised of people experiencing chronic street homelessness.13 This is, essentially, the bulk of those individuals who most people would recognize as homeless. They are defined as living primarily unsheltered, or very frequently using temporary shelters, and having an SMI, DSA, or both. They are also the population that is most resistant to treatment or programmatic assistance, yet consume the majority of all resources dedicated to addressing homelessness.14
The other 70% of the homeless population fall into two categories: episodically homeless, or people who often bounce between homes and homelessness; and transitionally homeless, people who end up homeless for a short period of time, and then quickly return to normal life.15 This last group are people who most folks would not recognize as homeless as they are generally perceived. Sometimes in need of temporary shelter services, these individuals often scrape by on friend’s couches, in their cars, etc.
As one longtime Phoenix homeless advocate is fond of saying, these folks represent the “low-hanging fruit” in the homeless services industry, but because of the rules surrounding Continuum of Care requirements, have limited, or virtually no, resources allocated or available to them. And yet these are the individuals who will generally be willing to accept services and treatment. They aren’t choosing a lifestyle of chronic street homelessness, and will generally seek to improve their condition if given a chance. Physical, mental and substance abuse barriers are far lower among this population as well.
Efforts begun under the Trump administration began to seek changes to this paradigm, offering greater flexibility to states and cities to shift their approach to focus on service delivery up front, but have been quickly abandoned in favor of a return to strict Housing First requirements.16
Barriers to Change
In addition to the federal law and rulemaking limitations noted above, Court rulings have dramatically limited the ability of states to successfully craft solutions that work for their citizens, to wit:
In Reed et al v Town of Gilbert, et al the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that jurisdictions may not make panhandling illegal, and may not place more restrictions on the practice than are necessary to reasonably ensure safety of both those engaged in panhandling, and those they are attempting to solicit.17
In Martin v City of Boise the 9th Circuit Court of the United States ruled that jurisdictions may not ban camping on public property, unless there are enough shelter beds available to those who want them.18
However, as the court notes, the ruling in Martin v Boise is limited:
“Our holding is a narrow one. Like the Jones panel, “we in no way dictate to the City that it must provide sufficient shelter for the homeless, or allow anyone who wishes to sit, lie, or sleep on the streets . . . at any time and at any place.” Id. at 1138. We hold only that “so long as there is a greater number of homeless individuals in [a jurisdiction] than the number of available beds [in shelters],” the jurisdiction cannot prosecute homeless individuals for “involuntarily sitting, lying, and sleeping in public.” Id. That is, as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”
Additionally, numerous court rulings have addressed the rights of individuals with SMI or DSA to decline treatment. [Citations Here] These rulings can effectively be summarized as follows: unless an individual is determined to be a threat to themselves or society, they cannot be placed in an inpatient facility against their will. This means, unfortunately, that there is no way to get disturbed or addicted individuals the help they need without the use of the criminal justice system. We will seek to work with Arizona’s federal delegation to change these laws but, in the meantime, we will use the tools we have.
Arizona must move aggressively to address homelessness and the impacts of homelessness on our community, rather than allow the issue to continue to grow unchecked by the current, failed Housing First approach. As the experience of other states makes clear, simply pouring more money into the current system is We are proposing here a comprehensive, statewide strategy to address homelessness focusing both on providing enhanced shelter, service and treatment options, but also on taking affirmative steps to restore the quality of life and reduce the impacts of chronic street homelessness on our broader population.
Simply put, while we can and must have compassion for our homeless population, we must also have compassion for citizens impacted by the societal impacts of chronic street homelessness. As much as the homeless have a right to live and be treated with respect, so do Arizona families. Mothers should not be afraid to take their kids to play in the park for fear of them being stuck with a discarded needle, or walk down the street without being aggressively accosted. Rampant crime and blight from homeless encampments cannot be allowed to continue to destroy historic neighborhoods or visit devastation on our open spaces.
Providers and homeless advocates have made it abundantly clear in recent years, however, that they have zero consideration for these impacts, and expect our citizens to simply accept the horrific violence, sex assaults, crime, and blight being generated by chronic street homelessness as the price of being “more privileged”.
We do not. Therefore, we are proposing the following:
Expand Temporary Shelter Facilities
Dramatically increase shelter bed availability by working with state agencies to immediately identify locations for and construct semi-permanent tent facilities in strategic locations around the state as a temporary measure while additional permanent facilities are developed. In doing so, we will provide more than enough beds to meet the requirements laid out by the 9th Circuit in Boise.
Invest in Long Term Facilities
This means locating and building more permanent shelter facilities. However, it also encompasses an expansion of halfway houses, treatment centers, and supported long-term living facilities
Leading with Services
State funding and support will be contingent on service organizations adopting an approach of leading with services vs Housing First. Organizations that do not adopt this approach will no longer be eligible for state assistance or grants. Funding will be diverted to organizations that either support this approach, as well as new organizations willing to take on these challenges with innovative new models.
Ban Urban Camping Statewide
Once we have created enough shelter bed availability to meet the test outlined in Boise, we will immediately ban urban camping statewide. We will no longer accept the impacts of rampant chronic street homelessness in our neighborhoods. Individuals who violate this statute will be subject to immediate arrest and detention.
Enhanced Enforcement of Quality-of-Life Issues
To address issues created by chronic street homelessness in regards to blight, harassment, aggressive solicitation, intimidation, theft, public intoxication, public lewdness, and a host of other problems, we will direct DPS to engage in a “Broken Windows” approach to policing, and tie state funding for counties and municipalities to the same. Jurisdictions which refuse will not be eligible for state revenue sharing or assistance, except as required by the Arizona Constitution.
Arrest & Offer Treatment
We will aggressively arrest homeless individuals who break the law, but offer diversion and expungement of their record for individuals who are willing to accept treatment and services, or can demonstrate that they do not require such services and are only experiencing transitional homelessness.
Treatment programs will follow three pathways:
Voluntary: chosen by patient, patient may choose to leave the program at any time AMA
a. Patient requests access at location, via service provider, or community outreach org
b. Patient taken to treatment center for medical, psychological, substance, and resources assessment.
c. If necessary, patient placed overnight in shelter facility to give providers time to complete assessment.
d. Initial treatment and / or intake plan formulated with providers, agreed to by patient
e. In-or-out patient treatment begins at designated facility.
f. Patient is secured in long-term housing with supports as defined by long-term care plan
2. Voluntary: chosen by patient, patient may choose to leave the program at any time AMA
a. Upon fifth involuntary hospitalization, patient is determined by law to be a threat to themselves and is taken to approved center for medical, psychological, substance abuse, and resources assessment.
b. Initial treatment and/or intake plan formulated & agreed to by designated care medical care specialist or physician.
c. If resource assessment determines family structure exists to incorporate patient without further public assistance, or with more limited public assistance, skip to step ‘h’.
d. In-patient treatment begins at designated facility
e. In-or-out patient treatment begins at designated facility
f. Assigned physician oversees treatment and collaborates with patient on medical release plan.
g. Upon fifth involuntary hospitalization, patient is determined by law to be a threat to themselves and is taken to approved center for medical, psychological, substance abuse, and resources assessment.
h. Long-term care plan established
i. Patient transfers to transitional housing
j. Patient is secured in long-term housing with supports as defined by their long-term care plan
k. Family supportive housing – if available – may be substituted at any time during this process for public / medical placement.
3. Involuntary Criminal: Directed or voluntary diversion from criminal prosecution
a. Patient is arrested for crimes against person or property, based on eligibility (no sex crimes, no serious violent crimes), patient is offered diversion from criminal processing to in-patient treatment facility.
b. Patient is retained in secured in-patient medical treatment center to give providers time to complete assessment.
c. Initial treatment plan formulated and agreed on by designated medical care specialist and patient.
i. If patient does not agree to treatment plan, they are returned to criminal justice system for standard processing.
d. In-patient treatment begins at designated facility
e. Assigned physician oversees treatment and collaborates with patient on medical release plan.
i. Patient has right to contest treatment plan and in-patient status at any time. However, failure to complete proscribed program will result in return to criminal justice system for standard processing.
f. Long-term care plan established
g. Patient transfers to transitional housing
h. Patient is secured in long-term housing with supports as defined by long-term care plan
i. Patient is secured in long-term housing with supports as defined by long-term care plan.
Campaign Against Judges Who Refuse
Arizona has judicial referral, meaning judges in the state are periodically up for confirmation or removal from their posts at the will of the voters. These referrals often receive very few votes, and confirmation is historically nearly guaranteed. That is, it is exceedingly rare for Arizona voters to remove a sitting judge from the bench, largely because most people have no idea if they deserve to be returned to the bench or not, and don’t bother to vote on the question. We will lead a campaign from the Governor’s office, and using the full political power of that office, to remove any municipal, county, or state judges who refuse to support this approach.
Allocate new and divert existing resources to programs designed to assist people in avoiding homelessness in the first place. Since it is far cheaper to keep someone off the street than get them off the street19, funding services to keep people in existing housing is the most cost-efficient way to reduce overall homelessness. This includes both permanent and temporary support programs to cover gaps for low-income individuals and especially for seniors and disabled people dependent on social security, disability, or government assistance.
Alternative Shelter & Housing
We will additionally invest in alternatives to traditional shelters for families, people with pets, seniors, veterans, those with special needs.
Funding & Coordination
We will initially seek to make an additional $50 to $100 million per year for the first three years available for these programs and services via combination of state, county and municipal funding. However, this program is intended to reduce costs long term We propose allocating half of these funds from state general funds, to be supplemented by increased county and municipal funding of an equivalent amount based on population. However, by switching to an approach of leading with services, provisions within the Affordable Care Act requiring funding for SMI and DSA patients, including supportive housing, provide another avenue to defer costs via both the federal government, and AHCCCS.
Homelessness can no longer be treated as something for only our major cities to address. Phoenix and Tucson, in particular, have historically borne the lion’s share of the burden for our entire state. Going forward, we will seek to create a statewide approach incorporating every jurisdiction within the state in a unified approach via a state working group.
This proposal represents the most aggressive and forward-thinking plan to address chronic street homelessness and the impacts it is placing on quality of life for our citizens in the country. We can no longer accept the failed approaches of a homeless services industry that is more interested in enabling chronic street homelessness and maintaining their funding than in successfully treating and supporting individuals in a manner that serves both our homeless population and community at large. We do not accept that the negative impacts of chronic street homelessness must be borne in silence by hardworking citizens, parents and children.
We will place the safety and quality-of-life of our citizens first, while giving homeless individuals better services and more options to help them permanently return to productive society. Those who are willing to accept help will find an Arizona standing by, ready to do whatever we can to assist them. Those who refuse will find an inhospitable and legally challenging environment designed specifically to eliminate chronic street homelessness as a lifestyle choice. They are welcome to move on, and we are pleased to recommend they consider heading to California, where Governor Newsom has made it clear that he welcomes their impacts on his residents.