Chandler sees rise in homlessness The Chandler Arizonan

Chandler sees rise in homlessness

Chandler sees rise  in homlessness
City News
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By Kevin Reagan
Arizonan Staff Writer

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Chandler has nearly tripled over the last three years.

Results from the annual Point In Time survey conducted in January indicate at least 75 people within Chandler were living without permanent shelter, according to data released by the Maricopa Association of Governments. In 2017, that same survey counted 27.

The rising numbers fit with a trend seen elsewhere in Maricopa County – where the homeless population increased by nearly 600 over the last year.

Mesa, Scottsdale and Tempe all counted a greater number of homeless individuals in a survey that only counts the number of people found living on the streets within a set period of time on one day. Overall, homeless numbers are likely far greater than the survey indicates.

Riann Balch, Chandler’s community resources manager,noted that it’s what the city can expect when housing becomes more unaffordable and wages don’t keep pace with living costs.

The last couple months have been especially challenging for Balch’s department as they adapt their services to fit with restrictions put in place during the pandemic.

“Our service levels didn’t change,” she said. “We just change the places that we’re finding people.”

The city Neighborhood Resources Department has a special intake room where individuals can seek some temporary relief from the desert heat.

That room had to abruptly close once the city started shutting down public offices, Balch said, forcing her staff to partner with nearby nonprofits and churches to offer some sanctuary to those in need of it. 

Chandler has recently partnered with other East Valley cities to rent hotel rooms in Mesa to individuals most at risk of  COVID-19 exposure.

There are up to 25 beds available for temporary housing through this partnership, Balch said.

This past year, Chandler was among several nearby municipalities to sign a joint resolution that vowed to explore new strategies for fighting homelessness.

Balch said that resolution has resulted in a productive coalition that’s allowed the cities to share their resources.

With sharp increases in unemployment, the pandemic has not only created greater economic instability among Chandler’s residents, Balch said, but also disrupted how social workers have help the homeless.

Shelters are now requiring new residents to undergo a COVID-19 test before they can be admitted, which is delaying access to services.

“We’re starting to see more people on the streets because a normal flow of services is not available,” she said.

The city recently invited homeless people to get tested for the coronavirus.

Forty-eight individuals were tested that day, Balch said, and some tested positive. They were offered treatment by the county’s health care provider.

Many of the services offered to the homeless population must be accepted voluntarily, Balch added.

Since the pandemic began, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been allotting more funds to help cities assist communities impacted by sudden job losses.   

Chandler was awarded $850,000 to give out in the form of community-block grants to help residents and nonprofits negatively impacted by the pandemic.

Balch said the city is directing most of those extra funds to efforts that will hopefully prevent more residents from becoming homeless.

A portion of the funding was awarded to AZCEND, a local nonprofit that operates a food bank and offers rental assistance to low-income residents.

The city also added another homeless navigator position who connects with individuals who might be experiencing some level of homelessness.

The city gets better each year at tracking and finding residents experiencing homelessness, Balch said, raising the city’s service levels gradually over time.

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