Glendale leads in the number of homeless in the West Valley. People without shelters have to endure the new obstacles of COVID-19 and record-breaking heat levels, both of which are putting increased pressure on the city of Glendale and its outreach programs.
At a city council workshop Dec. 8, Glendale Community Services Director Jean Moreno was scheduled to review grant allocation recommendations. The city receives annual Department of Housing and Urban Development and Community Planning and Development grant allocations.
According to the workshop agenda, “The programs financed with HUD CPD funds are intended to expand economic opportunities by investing in affordable housing, living wage, and quality of life programs designed to alleviate the causes and condition of poverty in communities as well as promote self-sufficiency and reduce homelessness.”
The city’s goals, according to Moreno’s presentation, include “Promote access to decent affordable housing” and “increase access to homeless services/housing.”
Phoenix and its surrounding cities broke several records this summer with temperatures rising to new heights. The National Weather Service issued severe heat alerts 43 times, with this year’s July and August being the two hottest months that the city of Phoenix has ever experienced.
The summer average temperature was the hottest on record, the average being 96.7 degrees compared to the last record of 95.1 degrees, as reported by the National Weather Service.
The Maricopa County Department of Public Health reported there have been 207 confirmed heat-associated deaths in the year 2020. This number is already higher than last year’s annual report of 197 heat-associated deaths.
With an alarming increase in heat-associated deaths, the city of Glendale is concerned about its homeless population, especially as a count of unsheltered people confirmed Glendale has by far the highest homeless numbers in the West Valley.
“Me and my partner, we have been outside when there have been some heinously hot temperatures,” said Evol Sutton, a 36-year-old father who was once homeless with his partner in Glendale. “When it’s like that, it’s really hard to try to focus on trying to step up in life and go look for a job, because all you’re worried about is surviving the heat, getting in the air conditioning, getting hydrated, and trying to make it through the day. It’s rough.”
According to data from Maricopa County’s Point-In-Time (PIT) Homeless Count, volunteers counted 170 unsheltered people in January. Peoria, the next-highest city for homeless numbers in the West Valley, had 83 unsheltered people counted, less than half of Glendale’s homeless count.
While the number of unsheltered people in Glendale is still high compared to its surrounding cities, Glendale has seen a decrease in its homeless numbers, dropping from the 194 unsheltered people that were counted for in 2019.
Most West Valley cities did not experience this same trend, as most saw a continued increase in their number of unsheltered people. Avondale, for instance, went from having 35 unsheltered people in 2019 to 56 unsheltered people this year.
The city of Glendale received $29 million from the CARES Act. Some of it was targeted to reduce homeless numbers and keep people from having to suffer through the summer’s rising heat.
The city of Peoria acted similarly, allocating $1.5 million of the CARES money it received to assist with mortgage, rent and utility assistance, said Kristina Perez, a Peoria spokeswoman. The city provided $1,500 a month for mortgage or rent for up to three months for people under the poverty level.
A cooperative agreement with Central Arizona Shelter Services, known as CASS, was also made by the city of Peoria, which provides seven emergency shelter beds for Peoria residents experiencing homelessness, according to Perez.
Along with government funding, Glendale’s homeless population has had to rely even more on local outreach programs and nonprofits.
“Local nonprofits across the Valley team up during the summer with the Maricopa Association of Governments to organize a Heat Relief Network,” said Lisa Baker, a Community Development Advisory Committee member. “There are various locations throughout the Valley, including Glendale, offering cooling centers, water and often weather-appropriate clothing.”
The Glendale Community Action Program and Public Housing offices, as well as the Glendale Municipal Courts building, are just two of the heat-relief sites that have now been provided by the city through the Heat Relief Network Mission.
“While many factors can be attributed to it, one resounding reason Glendale has been successful is due to the city taking the matter so seriously,” said Josh Skalniak, a spokesman for the Hope for Hunger Food Bank, a nonprofit organization. “In fact, Glendale has worked tirelessly to fix the problem of homelessness, including working with Phoenix Rescue Mission on its Street Outreach and Homeless Navigation Program, among other efforts.”
One Phoenix Rescue Mission organization that has contributed largely to saving Glendale’s homeless population from excessive heat is the Code Red campaign. This campaign helps host summer heat-relief drives, has water drop-off locations, and accepts donations of goods in bulk at reduced prices.
While the campaign has received many donations in the past, this year has unfortunately looked much different when it comes to resourcing. Due to COVID-19, less people went out to provide water and other materials during the blistering summer.
“It definitely made it more difficult only because we saw a huge difference in the amount of water we were receiving and donations,” said Catie Hammann, an organizer for the Code Red campaign.
“Without the donations that we normally would have received, it was hard, and it’s hard to not have all those resources that we were normally used to having.”
Hammann also says companies were not able to go into their offices due to the pandemic, so it was less likely for the employees of small companies to provide water to the campaign. She says these small companies are usually what her organization relies on for supplies, and a large portion of them have not supplied the organization this year due to a reluctance for in-person exchanges.
Regarding the rising temperatures, Hammann says her organization has had its own personal experience with heat-related issues. Organizers and volunteers for the Hope Coach, a mobile outreach program, know how it feels to witness someone suffering from extreme heat.
“Last year, somebody was passed out, and our Hope Coach stopped, saw them and was able to support them until the paramedics got there,” said Hammann. “That was a huge blessing that we were driving by at that time to take the time to stop and help them, but that happens so many times a year, and we can’t be everywhere.”
The Glendale Works program provides homeless people with five-hour work shifts, where they are paid $60 in cash at the end of each shift.
“When they come out repeatedly, we get a chance to know them and break down their defensiveness because they get comfortable,” said Gabe Priddy, a street outreach supervisor who ran the Glendale Works program for two years.
“Through that, we can best form a plan for assistance for that specific individual. If they need IDs, Social Security cards or birth certificates, which are some of the first requirements to even get on the housing list, then we can start identifying those things,” he added.
Sutton, who now lives in a home with his partner and child after going through Phoenix Rescue Mission’s housing process, is one who was uplifted out of homelessness by the Glendale Works program.
“It was a major opportunity to get off the streets,” said Sutton. “A lot of people do it for the money and then go about their business, but we actually wanted to get off the street, and that’s what Glendale Works helped us do. They made it happen for us because we worked the program.”
Sutton says the housing process took over a year, and even after getting on the housing list and filling out several questionnaires, he sometimes believed it would not work out. “It looks like it’s not going to happen at some points. It can be depressing, but if you do listen to the coaches and stuff, and if you stick with it, then it does happen,” said Sutton.
Priddy says that while he has never experienced a case of heat exhaustion with any of his workers during their five-hour shifts, he does believe that the increasing heat levels are a citywide problem for the homeless population of Glendale.
COVID-19 has affected the Glendale Works program, says Priddy, through the increased necessity of being more cautious with temperature checks and mask wearing.
As the city of Glendale and its nonprofit organizations seek to make change when it comes to aiding the homeless and decreasing the homeless rate, one can also help by donating to local outreach programs.
To find out how one can donate, visit phoenixrescuemission.org/give.