Is it realistic to say that we can really end homelessness?
As you might expect, reducing homelessness is a complex, human issue. There is no single solution that fits every person or situation. Also, we realize that the number of homeless people is not static. It is very fluid, changing from day to day-even hourly. As homeless people get placed into housing, other individuals are thrust into homelessness. In the United States and abroad, we will always have poverty, and the complexities of human beings in crisis. In Mesa, our goal is to reduce homelessness by creating such a strong, effective and efficient system that when we identify new homeless, their experience being homeless is one time, brief and doesn’t repeat itself. This is called “functional zero.”
Today, the homeless challenge is so complex, and related services are provided by so many organizations (both public and private) that improved coordination of these efforts is a best practice. Multiple City of Mesa departments, regional partners, schools, and non-profit service providers are working collaboratively to maximize partnerships and existing resources to reduce homelessness in Mesa and the region.
Our collective goal is to lead with service, and to create a strong, well-known, efficient and effective system that is focused more on providing connections to service and rehabilitation for those in Mesa experiencing homelessness today or to prevent others from becoming homeless. We also will use enforcement when and where it is necessary for public safety and security.
The City has a Housing and Community Development Office with several traditional services for fair housing and services such as housing vouchers, rental assistance, landlord engagement, and low-income housing tax credits to build more affordable housing. In addition, here is a brief description of homeless solutions that the City of Mesa and its many partners are working together to implement and seek reductions in this population.
- Navigators: Navigators are trained to work with and help people in crisis and have the know-how to connect people to available services.Today, there are navigators located in downtown Mesa, at Mesa’s Main Library, at Paz de Cristo and as part of the City’s community court.The navigators are the employees of non-profits Community Bridges, Inc. (CBI) or Marc Center (Marc) who train, support and equip the navigators.Many of these navigators have been homeless themselves and received help previously.Therefore, they are able to share their stories and help convince others that help can and does indeed work.Mesa’s navigators connect an average of about 340 individuals each month to services, and if the people are ‘ready’ for help, we are able to connect them.
- Police Department: Outreach, Education and Enforcement Policy.Mesa’s Police have created a new policy to provide additional options (beyond enforcement only) for how to help people experiencing crisis, or in handling homeless encampments.In summary, here’s how the “Outreach, Education and Enforcement policy” can work. View Policy
- Outreach: If PD encounters someone experiencing homelessness/crisis, they inform them about services and resources available to them, i.e. Outreach.If the person(s) are willing to accept assistance, the Police Department works with Community Bridges, Inc. (CBI) to quickly and efficiently find out what services the person(s) is eligible for and to immediately begin to connect the person(s) to those resources.
- Educate:If the person(s) decide not to receive help, Police will provide them a brochure of available resources, “Education.”Police will also talk to them about rules, laws that need to be followed to stay out of trouble.
- Enforce:And finally, if there is a crime in progress and the officer believes public safety is at risk, then an officer always has the ability to “Enforce.”And, the officer has the discretion to assign the person to the City’s new “Community Court.”
While this policy and approach may seem a common-sense, this is considered groundbreaking by many in the policing industry because it provides added problem-solving resources and avenues to Police officers so that they can try to help people who aren’t doing anything unsafe or illegal, but who clearly need some help. And this policy works well, because the City also realizes that the Police are a huge entry/access point into our systems for people who are experiencing a crisis or homelessness. The policy is new and is just beginning to be implemented by Mesa PD, but it is already getting attention from other local Police jurisdictions.
- Operation Main Line: In addition to the outreach, educate and enforce policy, the Police Department coordinates monthly “Operation Main Line” programs.They bring together police personnel and non-profit partners and for four hours solely reach out to people experiencing homelessness, not with an eye toward enforcement but to proactively connect them to service.To date, 149 people have been contacted and about one-third have accepted service immediately and were connected to resources. View Report
- Community Court: As a partnership between Mesa Municipal Court, Mesa’s Prosecutor’s office, Marc Center and other non-profits, the Court has created a specialty court to serve community members in crisis.The goal is to use a rehabilitative approach for those who commit low-level crimes by providing alternative strategies that create incentives for the individuals to get help, such as housing, job training, substance abuse counseling, etc.This effort is newly underway.The Court is conducted on Monday’s and Wednesday’s from 2p-5p in Courtroom #202.More information will be available as the Court continues and data and results are available to share.
- Main Downtown Library - Updated Code of Conduct, Security: The City of Mesa began receiving calls from community members expressing concern about security and safety at Mesa’s Main Library.Complaints ranged from use of bathrooms for washing, being fearful for children in the library, sleeping in the library, bringing in bags/belongings into the library.As such, the library has updated its code of conduct and has added security as a way to ensure security for all of the Library’s visitors.Since this new code went into operation, the City is receiving fewer complaints and there is a more proactive way to work with individuals if/when issues arise. Code of Conduct
- Paz de Cristo – St. Vincent’s Navigation/Resource Center:In addition to adding navigators at Paz de Cristo as well as job readiness/coaching services by Marc Center at Paz de Cristo, Paz and St. Vincent de Paul agreed to extend their hours of operation to ensure overlap in service hours.In other words, people in need of food and other services now have the ability to receive help at St. Vincents and go across the street to Paz de Cristo when St. Vincent’s closes.This helps ensure safety and security of people experiencing homelessness and provides another avenue for working to connect people to other resources available.
- Consistent, well known referral system:The challenge of homelessness is so complex, and related services are provided by so many organizations (both public and private) that improved coordination of these efforts is paramount.Coordination ensures we can maximize existing resources.Coordination provides a more seamless and navigable process for homeless to access services.And, coordination helps us seek to provide a ‘no wrong door’ policy.In other words, the goal is that the system and partner/services are so well known that all know how to help people who ask.
- Housing First with Supportive Services:The city has tenant-based funding to assist low-income individuals who are experiencing homelessness.The City’s partner, Community Bridges, Inc. is funded by the City to administer this program. The City of Mesa also provides housing opportunities for very-low and extremely-low income families and individuals through project-based housing vouchers.Today, 88 families receive these vouchers and are living at either Escobedo at Verde Vista or La Mesita Apartments.These 88 families also have access to support services, i.e. services tailored to the family’s needs in order to help them stay in housing and thrive.
- U.S.Veterans - Homeless Services “Housing Our Heroes.” Mesa believes that every Veteran deserves a home.The City has 191 housing vouchers, provided by HUD.In this case, the Veterans Affairs Dept. provides case management and health services.Mesa has also partnered with Phoenix on an effort to end Veteran’s homelessness.Mesa refers to this program as “Housing Our Heroes.”To date, approximately 170 previously homeless Veterans in Mesa have been identified and successfully enrolled into this program and housed.The goal of this program is to reach “Functional Zero.”This means that we are serving and housing more homeless Vets than are being identified with need.See chart.
The City of Mesa receives federal, state, county and some local funding that is applied directly (through competitive process and/or waiting lists) toward helping individuals and families who are income-eligible secure permanent housing and supportive resources, as needed. The City provides funding to local non-profits, who in turn provide direct services. Here are some examples of how funds are invested in Mesa today:
- 840 shelter beds at six locations
- 14 low-income or homeless families receive rental assistance
- 88 families provided housing through project-based vouchers at two Mesa locations
- 170 homeless Veterans provided permanent supportive housing
- 10 homeless and disabled families provided housing and supportive services
- 74 families provided shorter-term assistance through ‘rapid rehousing’ program
- 1,700 families receive Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8); people who are experiencing homelessness have priority preference
- 1,921 affordable units constructed/renovated in Mesa using Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program
- 650 residents receiving job readiness training
- 62 single family homes and 37 multifamily units have been acquired and fully renovated; and then sold to low-income individuals and families.
With “Emergency Shelter Grants (ESG)” and Human Service funds we provide support to the following shelters with a total of 840 beds.
- Autumn House
- Central Arizona Shelter Services
- East Valley Men’s Center
- East Valley Women’s Shelter
- La Mesita
- Lutheran Social Services I-Help program
Housing First and Permanent Supportive Housing
The City both operates and funds other housing providers to provide permanent supportive housing with a housing first model in the following ways
- The HOME‐funded Tenant‐Based Rental Assistance (TBRA‐H) program provides rental assistance to low‐income individuals who are experiencing homelessness. The City funds Community Bridges, Inc. to administer this program for 14 families. CBI conducts outreach, housing search assistance and wrap around services for up to two years for each individual/family served.
- The Project-Based Voucher program (PBV) provides additional housing opportunities for very-low and extremely low-income families and individuals. There are currently 88 families receiving PBV rental assistance at Escobedo at Verde Vista, 435 N Hibbert, Mesa, AZ 85201 and La Mesita Apartments, 2254 W Main St, Mesa, AZ 85201. The PBV properties provide on-site supportive services.
- The Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing program HUD-VASH) provides up to 191 vouchers for chronically homeless veterans and their families, while the Veterans Administration (VA) provides case management and clinic services at its medical centers and community clinics. The city of Mesa partnered with the city of Phoenix in its commitment to ending Veteran and chronic homelessness by ensuring episodes of homelessness are rare, brief and non-recurring. In December 2016, the Maricopa Regional Built for Zero collaborative achieved Federal benchmarks for establishing a quality bi-name list of individuals experiencing homelessness. The partnership with Phoenix includes funding to support Veteran specific navigation services.
- City of Mesa partners with Arm of Save the Family for the Continuum of Care Shelter Plus Care program. The program assists 10 disabled homeless families with rental assistance and are in need for mental illness or substance abuse supportive services.
The City through its federal funding by HUD and its local Human Services funds two providers to administer the rapid rehousing program. The Rapid Rehousing programs through Save the Family and A New Leaf receive a combined $144,663 and serve approximately 74 families annually with this funding. Referrals are received by Coordinated Entry.
Housing Choice Voucher Program Homeless Preference
The City operates the HCV Program for over 1,700 families. Since 2010 the City has had a homeless preference. In December 2016 the City of Mesa opened its waitlist. Applicants who applied prior to 7/1/2017 and determined to meet the Chronically Homeless preference #1 will retain this priority according to the previous policy. The following definition must be met.
- A chronically homeless person as defined by the U.S. Department of HUD: (either (A) a person with a disability who lives either in a place not meant for human habitation, a safe haven, or emergency shelter continuously for at least 12 months, OR (B) on at least four separate occasions in the last three years, where the combined length of homeless occasions is equal to at least 12 months. Each period separating the homeless occasions, or “break,” must consist of seven or more consecutive nights where the individual is not living in a homeless situation.
As the City continues to prioritize homelessness, the following preference was added July 2017 to allow the City to serve special populations, like homelessness, in conjunction with existing contracts or memorandums of understanding, to ensure wrap around services are provided to those experiencing homelessness.
- Special Programs - The City of Mesa Housing Authority operates a number of programs which serve special populations, special needs or which were designed for special purposes. For these populations and programs, preference will be given to applicants that are referred from various community organizations or divisions of local government which are under a Memorandum of Understand (MOU), Memorandum of Agreement, or a Contract with the Housing Authority in accordance with program policies and HUD regulations.
Affordable housing development
Since 2000, Mesa has authorized and administers significant investments in the development and rehabilitation of affordable housing units. The City also provides rent assistance to a substantial number of low and moderate-income residents. A variety of programs have been developed to address the diversity of housing needs in the community.
- Approximately $174 million of Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) (881 units) and nearly $133 million of Private Activity Bonds (1,040 units) have been used to construct or renovate 1,921 units of affordable housing (total cost of $307 million).
- Over $20.1 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds have been spent in the acquisition and renovation of 62 single family homes and 37 units of rental housing.
- HOME funds have been used to subsidize the construction of seven LIHTC projects and provide for rent assistance for another 789 families.
City of Mesa Housing Authority conducts an annual Landlord Briefing to update and encourage landlords to participate in our housing rental assistance programs. Annually face-to face visits are made to current, previous and potential landlords to recruit and retain local landlords, build a stronger relationship and serve our landlords with excellent customer service. MHA has a quarterly newsletter that informs landlords with any updates to our program.
Funding to Marc Community Resources to provide workforce development for those who experience homelessness. Referrals and services are provided at Paz de Cristo, a local nonprofit that serves a large number of persons living in homelessness. The Employment Training program uses a 3-pronged approach and anticipated serving between 600-700 Mesa clients.
- The first step consists of “center-based training” in which Marc contracts with corporations to assemble, shrink wrap, barcode, box and ship finished goods to Walmart, Costco and Target just to name a few. The program trainings individuals with the “real” work environment in order to work on various skills such as taking instruction, accepting constructive criticism, respectful communication and getting along with co-workers.
- The second approach is through using “mobile community work crews” in order to work and training within the community. Business partnerships are established in which the trainees can work side-by-side with employees. Each individual is supported by a job coach while doing a job, getting paid and building a resume just as any other person may do.
- The last piece is “direct placement” in which immediate placement into a community job takes place. The clients have built resumes, and are applying for jobs, sitting through mock interviews and attending interviews.