On Tuesday a groundbreaking occurred for Tucson’s first forthcoming $6.8 million “medical respite center” exclusively for the homeless. Medical respite centers are short-term residences and caregiving locations for the homeless that are ill or injured enough to warrant assistance but not hospitalization.
As of mid-March, the initiative raised just under $3.5 million. Major funders include the Diane & Bruce Halle Foundation, St. Joseph Catholic Healthcare Endowment Fund, Connie Hillman Foundation, Southwest Catholic Health Network, Ginny L. Clements and Tom Rogers, O’Rielly Family Foundation, Del E. Webb Foundation, Jim and Vicki Click, William and Mary Ross Foundation, Margaret E. Mooney Foundation, PetSmart Charities, Union Pacific, Raskob Foundation, and the Sundt Foundation.
In September, AZ Free News reported that an undisclosed number of Haitian illegal immigrants and refugees were bussed or flown into Tucson. CCS ran a shelter in Tucson called Casas Alitas.
Also behind the medical respite center is El Rio Health Center, a dental and medical center that receives federal funds from Health and Human Services (HHS) and is has federal status under the Federal Public Health Service (PHS).
According to the Tucson Housing and Community Development, there were an estimated 1,660 homeless people on any given night in Pima County in 2020. Those experiencing chronic homelessness in the county were estimated to be around 380.
Tucson is plagued with a homelessness crisis currently. Councilman Steve Kozachik said that the current number of homeless people are beyond past trends. Those rising numbers correspond with an increase in homeless deaths, as reported by the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office.
In a statement to KGUN9, Kozachik said that he was attempting to convince the rest of the council to establish controlled encampments to counteract the masses of temporary encampments occurring naturally where the homeless congregate and settle.
“I think the rest of the council simply does not like the optics, and they believe allowing an encampment to exist constitutes a failure,” said Kozachik. “I have a different perspective. Squeezing the balloon and moving people around from camp-to-camp week to week is the failure.”
Controlled encampments have begun to pop up in the major cities experiencing homelessness crises in other states, such as Denver, Colorado and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Denver launched its first controlled encampment last November. In April, the city and county asked federal appeals judges to rescind court-ordered standards on homeless encampment cleanups intended to preserve public health and safety.
Albuquerque hasn’t established controlled encampments yet, but it’s likely they will soon. Their city council is looking to amend its zoning code to allow for encampments managed mostly by churches or nonprofits: tents with facilities like restrooms called “safe outdoor spaces.”
Earlier this week, Sam Stone accused City of Phoenix officials of letting the vagrancy and homeless problem get out of control. And the former chief of staff for Councilman Sal DiCiccio suggested a drastic change is needed in how the community addresses the issue.
During an interview Monday with KFYI’s James T. Harris, Stone said Phoenix is “headed down the same path” as Seattle, Portland, and large cities in California, in part because officials here are following the same failed policies. “And when you do the same thing you’re going to get the same results,” he said.
The topic of homelessness came up after Harris recently took an informal tour of a massive downtown homeless camp. He later posted a video of what he witnessed along a several block area of downtown.
Harris told listeners Monday he was shocked by what he saw, and that it appears the homeless crisis will get worse without some major change.
“Unless you’ve been to downtown Phoenix lately you might not be aware of the growing homeless population in the Valley,” Harris said during his show. “There are so many of them…so many people – if you wanted to help them where would you put them?” he asked Stone.
The issue of homelessness is complex, Stone told Harris, and there are many unseen homeless people who are “sofa surfing” with friends and family or who live in their vehicle. Many of those are utilizing social services and other support networks to address their situation.
But Stone’s comments during the interview focused on a large percentage of Phoenix’s homeless population made up of citizens who cannot -or will not- take advantage of social services due to mental health issues or an addiction. As a result, they live on the streets, sometimes in makeshift homeless camps on large vacant lots but often on public parks and sideways, even residential alleys and private property.
The city, according to Stone, is failing to do anything about the problem of chronic street homelessness.
“What we’re doing – the same approach that has been done across the country – is enabling chronic street homelessness instead of treating it,” Stone said to Harris. “We’re making it easier and easier to live on the streets.”
Part of the problem, Stone said, is that an entrenched industry has built up around street homelessness, resulting in advocate who no longer push services as the number one priority. To change how chronic street homelessness is addressed would require an investment by the city, Stone acknowledged, including a temporary large facility -perhaps a tent city- and many more shelters than are available now.
“You’ve got to make it services first, you’ve got to push people, you’ve got to do some tough love,” Stone said. “People don’t want to talk about this but you’ve got to make it harder to live on the street than it is to go to treatment, period.”
Stone also contends liberals don’t see chronic homelessness as a problem and that advocates consider forcing homeless persons into a decision of whether “they want to pack up and move on” or get into treatment to be a negative.
“And it’s true, that’s a tough thing to say, but all of these policies they have from coast to coast are the same,” he explained. “Where we’ve seen success with this is in other countries where they say pure and simple ‘no you can’t live here on the street’ – we have a place for you and we’re going to give you treatment when you’re there.”
Stone added that the person is not given an option about the treatment “because someone who is drug addicted or has a mental health issue is not in a frame of mind to be able to make good decisions for themselves, period. So you make the decision for them.”
As to concerns about the rights of homeless persons suffering with addiction or mental health issues, Stone noted in many instances those same people would be declared by a court as incompetent to handle major financial decisions. In such situations, a judge would appoint a guardian ad litem to protect the person’s best interests.
But when it comes to leaving those same people to fend for themselves on the streets, Stone said homeless advocates often argue, ‘oh they’re qualified and mentally competent to say that they should remain on the street’ and not get treatment.
“It is absolutely wrong to me, it is immoral and inhumane, and it is total misplaced compassion from the Left,” he added.