The fight against the rise of homelessness and crime in Downtown Phoenix
The rise of homelessness and crime in Downtown Phoenix neighborhoods has city officials concerned. This past weekend those issues were front and center at a community meeting hosted by Phoenix Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari at the Burton Barr Central Library on Saturday, where city officials said they are making investments in increased policing and homeless services in response to the crisis.
Ansari represents District 7 which includes Downtown Phoenix, Laveen, Estrella, Maryvale and South Phoenix.
“Building affordable housing and responding to the homelessness crisis” is on the top of the priority list, Ansari says. She addressed that the housing shortage is a big reason as to why citizens are struggling to find affordable housing.
In addition to the housing shortage, members of the community expressed their concerns with the perception that law enforcement is not doing enough about crime associated with an unhoused population.
One person at the meeting said downtown residents would feel safer if they saw police officers out patrolling in their neighborhoods. “I see officers driving around in vehicles, but I don’t actually see them on foot.”
In response to the concerns, police officials said they are working to actively recruit more officers. “We do currently have 45 officers that are in training that will be coming up to be full time officers here,” says Commander Brian Freudenthal, who is part of the Downtown Operations Unit. Freudenthal says that these numbers are much higher than they were from a year ago.
Phoenix C.A.R.E.S. offers resources to neighborhoods and individuals experiencing homelessness, including mental health services. There are five departments that work in the Phoenix C.A.R.E.S. system: Office of Homelessness Solutions, Neighborhood Services, Streets Department, Public Works Department and Phoenix Police Department. The encampment centers are strictly voluntary; nobody can be forced to stay at the shelters.
“Whatever it is to help get that person off the street and going into the right direction is what we’re trying to achieve,” says Scott Hall, Deputy Director of the Office of Homelessness Solutions Team. Last year alone, Hall says a $10 million investment helped create 592 beds to shelter homeless people.
Funding for more park rangers is crucial for the city, Ansari said. She said the city hopes to add an overnight shift for park rangers and bring more into the program altogether. In doing so, parks and recreational facilities will be monitored more closely.
“We want to focus on partnership and getting people to the table to solve the issue,” says Spencer Self, Director of the Neighborhood Services Department. This department invests in low and moderate income neighborhoods and provides housing rehab services.
Ansari said the city plans to boost funding through a proposed $500 million General Obligation (GO) Bond that voters will vote on this November. She said if approved, much of the funding will go toward public safety, parks and recreations, storm drainage and roads.
District 7 would directly receive $113 million from the $500 million bond, if it is passed. Particularly, $3 million for Hance Park, $14 million for Valley Youth Theatre, $2 million for a Jewish Historical Society and $10.1 million for ADA Accessibility.
“When we come and we see the community is invested, it really drives us to make sure we try to better service,” Freudenthal says. Involvement and participation is crucial to making changes within a community.