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Tempe grows its investment in ending homelessness

Post Date:06/14/2019 2:00 PM

Tempe is making steady progress toward housing chronically homeless people and successfully keeping them housed.

Focusing on this population of homeless individuals is vitally important, as people who are chronically homeless are the most frequent users of public safety and other services. The city also is successfully connecting the broader homeless population with housing and social services.

Tempe is making additional investments toward its homelessness efforts in the upcoming fiscal year, including adding city employees to work directly with people who are homeless and expanding park maintenance to enhance city parks. The City Council approved the allocations as part of their June 6 approval of the 2019-20 fiscal year budget. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Significant investments in recent years have been crucial to the city’s ability to serve people in need. Mayor Mark Mitchell expressed pride in the city’s progress and belief that investments are slowly showing progress.

“Tempe is a compassionate community. Our residents have a right to clean, safe neighborhoods and parks – at the same time, they care about helping homeless people and families,” Mitchell said. “We are so grateful to our dedicated city staff, from public safety and parks maintenance to human services experts. They are determined to make a long-term difference in people’s lives and they’re doing amazing work connecting homeless individuals and families with the services they need.”

The new investments approved by the City Council for homeless-related efforts will support:  

  • An additional police officer to boost patrols in city parks
  • A CARE 7 social service coordinator to enhance crisis response
  • Two additional homeless outreach specialists to extend coverage and focus deployment
  • Funding for the City Attorney’s office to assist in Tempe Mental Health Court, which serves people experiencing homelessness
  • Funding to expand private security patrols in city parks, increasing the number of parks and coverage hours with enhanced security
  • Funding for park and vegetation cleanups to address homeless encampments

Complex, national issue

A progress report to the City Council at the May 16 Work Study Session meeting laid out the wide-ranging work being done to meet Tempe’s goal of ending homelessness, highlighting efforts by multiple city departments and regional partnerships.

Tempe, like other cities across the nation, is seeing an increase in the number of people who are experiencing homelessness. A lack of affordable housing, increasing rental costs and high eviction rates make it more difficult for people to remain housed.

Tempe is committed to making homelessness a rare, brief and one-time experience in the community. That means: homelessness does not happen often; people who become homeless are connected to shelter and housing as soon as possible; and people who are housed do not return to homelessness.

In January, Tempe staff and volunteers counted 373 people experiencing homelessness, up from 276 the previous year, during the annual Point-in-Time Homeless Street Count.

The one-day, countywide effort provides a snapshot of the homeless population in the region. Maricopa County as a whole showed 6,614 people experiencing homelessness, an increase of 316 people from 2018. That overall number has been climbing for six consecutive years.

Tempe has seen year-over-year increases in the number of people experiencing homelessness  since 2016. The city attributes those increases to improvements in how the street count is conducted as well as the growth of the region.

Growing investments

Dedicating more resources has been key to Tempe’s work serving people in need. During fiscal year 2018-2019, the city invested nearly $1.25 million in homeless-related programs and services. That number has grown each fiscal year since 2015-2016, when the city allocated more than $266,000.

These totals do not include grant dollars or programs such as Housing Choice vouchers that are funded through other government sources.

In addition to those dedicated resources, city departments such as Tempe Police and Tempe Fire Medical Rescue provide services through their normal operations to assist with homelessness.

While Tempe has steadily been advancing the goal to end homelessness, city staff emphasized that the pace of progress can feel slow. Tempe continues to build on the foundation laid roughly 20 years ago with the first formal efforts to address homelessness.

“The City of Tempe has a long history of conscientious program development to address homelessness,” said Nichole Stevens, the city’s homeless solutions supervisor. “We rely on an infrastructure that includes multiple city departments, as well as local, state and federal governments, nonprofits, service providers and the faith community.”

“Today, Tempe is considered an innovator in creating successful strategies for assisting people out of homelessness,” she said.

Successful approaches

The upcoming additional investments will enhance and expand the work being done throughout the city and region. 

HOPE team. The city’s homeless outreach team – HOPE – plays a vital role in engaging people and connecting them with housing and social services. HOPE uses best national practices and team members’ expertise is sought out by regional partners. Among the team’s successes:

  • Last fiscal year, the HOPE team alone served more than half – or 624 – of the 1,117 unduplicated homeless individuals in the region reporting the City of Tempe as their last known address through navigation and case management. Of the 624, the team engaged 201 chronically homeless people and housed 55 of them.
  • Overall, the HOPE team found permanent housing for 103 people in the broader homeless population.
  • Team members have been able to house a person in an average of 35 days – from voucher issuance to leasing an apartment – and 95 percent of those clients remained housed. Regional providers average 41 days from voucher issuance to leasing an apartment and 85 percent of those clients remained housed.
  • Through the efforts of the HOPE team and regional partners, nearly 240 Tempeans experiencing homelessness were housed last fiscal year.

Multi-department approach. Successful outcomes like these rely on the work of many city departments, including Human Services, Tempe Police, Tempe Fire Medical Rescue, Tempe Municipal Court, Municipal Utilities, the City Attorney’s Office and Community Services.

For instance, the Police Department and the park maintenance team within Community Services work together to address encampments in Tempe parks by engaging people in need and ensuring that parks are safe and welcoming for all users. CARE 7’s crisis response team and Tempe Fire Medical Rescue partner to reduce the chronic use of public safety systems by high-cost and high-need users, many of whom are homeless.

Housing Services has expanded housing options with more than 130 specialty vouchers for vulnerable populations such as people with serious mental illnesses and victims of domestic violence. The housing team also offers three emergency shelter units. The HOPE and CARE 7 teams identify individuals and families experiencing homelessness who are eligible for this housing.  

Regional partnerships. A key part of Tempe’s approach is establishing partnerships with external stakeholder groups such as the East Valley Access to Housing Group and Tempe Homeless Coalition. In 2017, Tempe City Manager Andrew Ching convened the East Valley City Managers’ Work Group to tackle issues related to homelessness as a region.

Tempe has gained a positive reputation in the Valley for its work.

“The City of Tempe continues to innovate and experience successes with a multi-pronged approach to its goal of ending homelessness, from daily street outreach to innovative work programs to leadership at the regional level,” said Bruce Liggett, director of the Maricopa County Human Services Department. “This comprehensive approach is crucial to addressing the challenging and complex issue of homelessness.”

For more information about Tempe’s efforts to end homelessness:

Media contact: Nikki Ripley –


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