Delayed Phoenix shelter will offer jobs, pilot $135K single-stall bathroom
Phoenix is moving forward with plans to open a new shelter at 22nd Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road after a list of potential operators was approved by the City Council last week.
Though the initial goal was to open the shelter by June 1 — before the summer heat ramps up — the opening will now be delayed by at least two months because the soil needs to be stabilized for construction, said Rachel Milne, the director of Phoenix's Office of Homeless Solutions.
"I’m hopeful for something earlier than the end of the summer," she said.
The shelter plans propose sleeping space for almost 280 people in congregate and non-congregate spaces, RV parking, shaded outdoor areas, storage and laundry.
It will be a closed shelter, meaning there will be no walk-up services.
Instead, Phoenix's homelessness outreach teams will invite people to the shelter and transport them there. Priority at the new shelter will be for people experiencing homelessness in the site's surrounding area and individuals in an encampment near the Arizona governmental mall.
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In an attempt to remove some of the barriers people face when seeking shelter, the site will allow pets and include spaces for couples, said Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari.
Milne said that the new facility will offer about one-third of the 800 shelter beds the city plans to add over the next two years. People staying at the shelter will be supported by case managers in finding permanent housing, she said.
The Office of Homeless Solutions is selecting the site's operator from the list of qualified vendors approved by the council on Jan. 25.
Job opportunities for shelter residents
The shelter will offer immediate work opportunities for people staying there, according to the city.
The jobs will be organized by St. Vincent de Paul's Neighborhood Brigade Program. People staying at the shelter will have the opportunity to work up to 15 hours per week, making $18 an hour, according to Jessica Berg, the chief program officer for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Phoenix.
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St. Vincent de Paul already operates employment programs at its Ozanam Manor transitional shelter, off South Central Avenue just south of Interstate 17, and its Washington Street shelter north of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
The work will beautify the shelter's neighborhood, “making it a more dignified space, a cleaner space,” Berg said. This could include picking up trash.
According to Berg, it's an attempt to combat the stereotype that homelessness creates blight. "We have these uniformed brigade members who are really helping to dispel those myths," Berg said.
Over time, Berg hopes to ramp up the program to offer more types of work and increased hours. St. Vincent de Paul will also provide workforce navigation services at the shelter to help people living there seek longer-term employment, Berg said.
Providing immediate work opportunities was a requirement of the $7 million Phoenix received for the shelter from the Arizona Department of Housing as part of its Homeless Service Grant Pilot Program. Additional funding for the shelter came from the American Rescue Plan Act, which will fund site construction and operational expenses through 2024.+
Piloting a single-stall, $135,000 bathroom
The plans for the shelter include a pilot of the Portland Loo, a stand-alone bathroom conceived in part by officials in Portland, Oregon.
It's an effort to address the need for more public restrooms, Milne said. The Portland Loo's design also aims to deter drug use, prostitution and vandalism sometimes associated with public restrooms.
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Phoenix currently funds staffing to maintain 24/7 restrooms at the Human Services Campus at South 12th Avenue and West Madison Street and rents 13 port-a-potties by the shelter at Ninth Avenue and Jackson Street.
“Graffiti is an issue" for the port-a-potties, Milne said. “A few of them have been lit on fire. You name it; it’s happened down at those port-a-potties.”
With a base price tag of $135,000, the sewer-plumbed Portland Loo is a more expensive option than temporary toilets. But Milne said it is intended to address issues Phoenix has faced with port-a-potties and other public restrooms in high-density, high-trafficked areas.
“Residents and the city are often concerned about potential crime and drug use occurring in public restrooms,” said Ansari.
According to the Portland Loo website, the bathroom has slats on the top and bottom that allow passersby to see if there are multiple people inside. It also has blue lighting to "prevent drug users from locating veins," and its steel wall panels are marketed as easy to clean.
“It’s almost indestructible, so it really helps to keep people from tampering with some of the plumbing and that type of thing," Milne said.
If the Portland Loo withstands the summer heat and proves simple to maintain, Milne said, she’d like to see more placed “in our high-trafficked areas, especially where there’s people experiencing homelessness."
Madeleine Parrish covers equity issues for The Arizona Republic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @maddieparrish61.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Delayed Phoenix shelter will offer jobs, $135K single-stall bathroom