Phoenix Opens New Homeless Shelter on Washington Street

On Friday morning, Thomas Knierim stood simply outdoors of the town of Phoenix’s brand-new, 200-bed shelter, smoking a cigarette. He had arrived the earlier Saturday. Before that, he had been sleeping on the streets.

The warmth was killing individuals who had been left homeless within the metropolis, Knierim advised Phoenix New Times. “I was almost at that point,” he stated. He now has a roof over his head, and, six days in, has no complaints about his new quarters. “So far, so good,” he stated.

The metropolis of Phoenix and Maricopa County, along with a number of social providers organizations, opened the brand new shelter on May 13, simply as temperatures started to spike. It’s situated at twenty eighth and Washington streets, within the largely industrial and industrial hall simply north of Sky Harbor International Airport.

With scorching summer time days across the nook, the shelter comes at an pressing second for housing. Over the previous couple of years, warmth deaths have skyrocketed throughout the state. In Maricopa County, 323 individuals died resulting from warmth in 2020; in 2021, that quantity climbed to 339. In comparability, from 2006 to 2019, the typical warmth deaths per yr was simply 106. These numbers embody deaths each deemed by the county to be “caused” by warmth and simply “related.”

A big proportion of warmth deaths in Maricopa County — 52 % in 2021 — are homeless.

Maricopa County’s first heat-related demise this yr was on April 26, based on knowledge launched this week by the county. Seven different deaths between April 24 and May 14 are at present underneath investigation as heat-related. So far, particulars about these deaths are unclear. But they will not be the final of the summer time, not by an extended shot.

Until final week, Knierim had been considered one of a thousand individuals residing in “the zone,” the downtown Phoenix encampment at twelfth Avenue and Jefferson Street. Here, a single spigot serves as the one 24-hour supply of potable water. Makeshift tents and shelters line the streets for blocks.

click on to enlarge Thomas Knierim had been living on the streets in downtown Phoenix. Now, he's one of the first guests at a new, 200-bed shelter. - KATYA SCHWENK

Thomas Knierim had been residing on the streets in downtown Phoenix. Now, he is one of many first friends at a brand new, 200-bed shelter.

Katya Schwenk

Knierim has been homeless for years, he stated. Before he moved to Arizona, he had been residing in an encampment in Philadelphia, the place he grew up. He needed a recent begin, he stated, and took a Greyhound bus this yr to Phoenix.

In the final six months, the variety of individuals residing within the encampment has doubled. In December, 500 individuals lived within the zone, stated Jessica Berg, chief program officer of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix, which is working the brand new shelter. Now, they quantity an estimated 1,000.

“People are falling into homelessness, or it’s taking them much longer to get out,” Berg stated. There was an pressing want for the town and social providers to step in. “Especially now that the heat is here, we hope that this can be a model moving forward.”

The encampment downtown has made some metropolis residents leery of homeless shelters coming to their neighborhoods, for concern that sprawling encampments will quickly comply with. This has been an impediment for these advocating for extra shelter beds.

But maybe due to its location — in a enterprise district, comparatively removed from residential neighborhoods — the Washington Street shelter didn’t show as controversial as different comparable undertakings. One deliberate $4 million shelter in north Phoenix has drawn coordinated neighborhood opposition from a whole lot, as an illustration. This shelter could be situated throughout from a park, in a tight-knit neighborhood within the Sunnyslope space.

There are scattered companies close to the Washington Street shelter, however the road the place it is situated is quiet. Berg stated the crew was engaged on a “good neighbor agreement” with companies and property homeowners within the space. Largely, she stated, the relationships with neighbors have been optimistic, thus far.

Berg famous, too, that the shelter was a “closed campus,” not like different shelters or useful resource facilities, which could present walk-up providers. Guests on the shelter should be referred to remain there, and should signal out and in as they arrive and go.

The constructing is spacious and brilliant. Its entrance doorways open into a large cafeteria, the place meals are served thrice a day. Staff sit alongside the wall, answering questions. Knierim stated the environment was “quiet and laid-back.” It was extra welcoming, he stated, in comparison with different shelters the place he has stayed, locations that kicked out their friends throughout the day, or had been overcrowded and understaffed.

Three months in the past, the town and county settled on the Washington Street property as the situation for a brand new, high-capacity shelter within the metropolis. The constructing was already owned by the town of Phoenix, and had been deliberate for use by the aviation division. Between them, Phoenix and Maricopa County spent over $4.6 million to transform it right into a shelter and get the mission up and working over the previous couple of months.

St. Vincent de Paul of Phoenix, which operates numerous social providers initiatives throughout the Valley, is tasked with the day-to-day operations of the power. Local nonprofit Community Bridges can also be current on the shelter.

The shelter offers an extended record of providers: three meals a day, showers, laundry, clothes, beds. The facility, not like some shelters, is open 24 hours a day, and has safety onsite. It additionally offers connections to numerous assets, together with job alternatives and psychological well being counseling. “It doesn’t just provide a respite,” stated Jacqueline Edwards, the director of Maricopa County Human Services Department. “It provides a connection to other services.”

click on to enlarge The new shelter located at 28th and Washington streets opened on May 13. - KATYA SCHWENK

The new shelter situated at twenty eighth and Washington streets opened on May 13.

Katya Schwenk

So far, round 50 of the 200 beds are stuffed, Berg stated. The shelter deliberate to herald friends a couple of at a time — “so that we’re not rushing through intakes,” she defined. Staff had been prioritizing bringing individuals in from the encompassing neighborhood, at twenty eighth and Washington, in addition to others like Knierim who had been residing within the encampment close to the Human Services Campus. 
Other than fundamental pointers — “no drugs on the property, no violence, things like that,” Berg stated — there have been few situations for entry.

Stacey Champion, an area activist — and loud critic of the town’s response to the homelessness disaster — stated she was glad to see the shelter open. But, she famous, the brand new shelter merely didn’t present sufficient beds to fulfill the demand. “We just need more of them,” she stated. “And faster.”

Asked if the county was doing sufficient to deal with the problem, Edwards stated, “Maricopa County is continuing to explore ways to expand shelter beds,” noting that the county already operates quite a lot of transitional housing applications and bridge shelters except for the Washington Street location.

There is, although, nonetheless extra demand than there are beds accessible.

Another visitor on the shelter, Marcellus Mais, advised New Times that he’d had an excellent expertise thus far on the shelter. Mais, 34, stated he is by no means actually had everlasting shelter. Originally from San Diego, he has bounced across the streets of Phoenix for years now, by no means staying in a single place. “I was everywhere,” he stated.

For the primary time in a very long time, Mais stated, he is been in a position to get an excellent night time’s relaxation. This was the largest distinction the shelter had made he stated. “I wasn’t able to get any sleep at all,” he stated — only a couple hours an evening on the streets. Now, he sleeps via the night time.

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