Arizona Senate pauses fighting to do right by the homeless (What a surprise)

·5 min read
A sign on the ground on Jan. 24, 2023, near 27th Avenue in Phoenix.
A sign on the ground on Jan. 24, 2023, near 27th Avenue in Phoenix.

On Tuesday morning, the body of a homeless man was found burning inside a dumpster in The Zone, a homeless encampment near downtown Phoenix.

Then, the unthinkable happened. (Sadly, the horrors of being homeless in Arizona aren’t all that hard to imagine any more.)

A few hours after the 8 a.m. discovery of the burning man, just two miles away at the state Capitol, the Arizona Senate stood for a moment of silence in his memory.

What followed was even more important. A bipartisan group of senators passed a bill to address the crisis that is putting families on the street and leaving far too many Arizonans with nowhere to turn.

Financial help came this close to starting immediately

If just two more Republicans join in with Democrats, this bill could actually make an immediate difference.

How many of the bills being debated at the state Capitol these days really do that?

Arizona saw a 23% spike in homelessness between 2020 and 2022,  according to a December report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The state's growing population, critical lack of places that people can afford, skyrocketing rents, inflation. Add in the chronically ill and addicted who are so clearly in need intervention and Arizona has one of the worst homeless crises in the nation.

Efforts would get people off the street or prevent homelessness

Of the more than 13,000 people who had no place to call home in any given night in December, most were living on the street or in a car or God knows where. Evictions, meanwhile, are exploding.

Senate Bill 1585 would create a state pilot program and allocate $155 million to get people off the street or prevent them from landing there.

Of that, $10 million would go to provide rental assistance to low-income seniors. The rest would go into a newly created Homeless Shelter and Services Fund, offering matching grants to cities, counties, tribes and nonprofits that provide emergency shelter, affordable housing and comprehensive services to those who need help.

To places like the Salvation Army, which provides subsidized housing for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. The nonprofit has just over 300 apartments in downtown Phoenix and Mesa.

Those who face not having a home are a growing segment

The wait to get in is 29 months.

“This is a humanitarian crisis, not only for the elderly but it also is affecting families who are being evicted from their apartments,” the Salvation Army’s Jeff Taylor said, in testifying for the bill last month. “ And that doesn’t even touch to the fact that we have homeless encampments with chronically homeless people that are exploding throughout our community.”

Camps that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has said cannot be outlawed unless there is sufficient shelter space so that people don't have to sleep outside.

SB 1585 won’t solve the state’s affordable housing and homeless crisis.

According to the Arizona Department of Housing, 375,000 Arizonans have an annual income of $25,000 or less, meaning they can afford to pay just $625 a month for rent and utilities. Meanwhile, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Arizona was $1,345 last month, according to Zumper’s monthly analysis of active listings.

The catalyst for the bill regrets ignoring problem for years

But the bill is, at least, a start.

A welcome one in a Republican-run Legislature has thus far spent much of the year warring over bills that are going nowhere fast.

It's the work of Sen. Catherine Miranda, a Phoenix Democrat whose district includes The Zone. She has spent months working with 50 or more groups trying to sort out the best way to help people. Her proposal aims to offer not just help with housing but with treatment and job training – the sort of help that must be part of any solution to getting people into housing and keeping them there.

“After five years of watching the Legislature kind of go through the same routine keeping the same narrative, I finally just took a ride over here,” she told the Arizona Capitol Times’ Camryn Sanchez. “I saw how the homeless quadrupled, and that’s when it hit me that I was part of the problem, too -- the eight years that I was here of just driving up Washington or down Jefferson and ignoring the issue -- and I just made a promise to myself that I’m not going to ignore it anymore.”

The Senate has another shot to make the help immediate

Miranda needed the support of 20 senators to put the bill into immediate effect. She fell two short, with the bill passing 18-11. The 11 Republicans who voted no will have a chance to change their minds, should the bill clear the House.

They should change their minds.

Maybe take a field trip two miles down the road to 11th Avenue and Madison Street, where on Tuesday a man was set on fire and left to die in a dumpster.

-

Joining Senate Democrats in supporting the bill were Republican Sens. Ken Bennett of Prescott, David Gowan of Sierra Vista, Sine Kerr of Buckeye, Janae Shamp of Wickenburg, and T.J. Shope of Coolidge.

Opponents: Republican Sens. Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu City, Frank Carroll of Sun City West, David Farnsworth of Mesa, Jake Hoffman of Queen Creek, Steve Kaiser of Phoenix, John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills, Anthony Kern of Glendale, J.D. Mesnard of Chandler, Wendy Rogers of Flagstaff, Justine Wadsack of Tucson and Senate President Warren Petersen of Gilbert.

Reach Roberts at laurie.roberts@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LaurieRoberts.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Senate pulls a surprise with partisanship to OK homeless aid