Following numerous complaints from downtown merchants about the growing number of homeless people residing in Murphy Park and disrupting business, council heard an update on its Glendale homeless strategic action plan.

Community Services Director Stephanie Small presented an update to council on the plan with recommendations on identifying funding for a homeless liaison, improving data collection and creating a team unified with numerous city departments to contact the homeless people within city limits that need assistance.

“Even in post recession, we are still dealing with many individuals struggling with homelessness,” Small said. “Whether they are individuals, or families, they are having a huge impact countywide and not just the city.”

The city has done an annual count of homeless people within its boundaries. The last one took place in January, and found 57 homeless people living on the streets of Glendale. Maricopa County Association of Governments conducts the Point-in-Time Homeless Street Count, with volunteers counting and interviewing the homeless.

“We had 57 individuals working with us that we got numbers for,” Small said. “When we advertise that we are doing surveys, a lot of homeless people will hide because they do not want to be known as homeless, so the actual number may be higher. Of those identified, we got one individual housed and seven placed in services.”

Small said the Community Development Advisory Committee (CDAC) receives $325,000 in federal funding for homeless assistance, shelter operations and prevention of homelessness.

Yucca Councilmember Joyce Clark questioned the number of individuals helped to the money funded.

“I guess what I am expressing is frustration that we throw money at this and it doesn’t seem to get better and I am expressing frustration that we make allocations, whether it is money getting to organizations or we allocate it, but I don’t see any difference or improvement in the problem and that is why I am so frustrated with this issue,” Clark said.

Small said the federal funding has been used for utility assistance and other items to help citizens in trouble.

“All that money includes community action and it goes to shelters and utility assistance, also,” Small said. “We do not have a homeless shelter, so we also assist county shelters as well, and the money also assists officers in getting individuals to those shelters.”

The city has identified and is in the process of interviewing people for the new homeless liaison, which is expected to join the city within a month. That person will focus on numerous issues in the CDAC.

“The liaison will recommend allocation of the federal funds as well as be a contact person between our multi-agency team, along with US Vets, New Leaf, community housing, neighborhood alliance and the Phoenix Rescue Mission,” Small said. “This new person will also help improve communication in holding quarterly meetings with key speakers and programs with the community revitalization team.”

Clark pointed to research that one-third of homeless people have mental issues, one-third are professional homeless and do not want assistance, and one-third are truly in need of help.”

“For the life of me, there’s no action to turn that around,” Clark said. “When I drive home, there is a man at 59th and Glendale Avenue holding a sign and he’s been there for a couple of months, every afternoon,” Clark said. “If we are really doing something about homelessness, I would think someone by now has done outreach to him and helped him instead of me seeing him there every afternoon. You can talk a study to death, but where is the visual action that is occurring to take care of these people, of the people who want to be helped when you recognize there is a certain percentage who prefer to stay homeless forever?”

Small said it is correct that there are people who do not want help, but added that it is not a crime to be homeless and the city tries to counteract a person’s right to be on the street with those who are struggling with either mental issues, or substance abuse.

“We try to get the individuals with mental issues, or substance abuse, into some kind of treatment plan,” Small said.

Clark added that she found the numbers showing 51 people identified as homeless, only one was housed and seven in treatment, do not point to city success and may be a waste of the money directed to the issue.

“From what you’ve provided in the material, we helped 75 families,” Clark said. “We prevented 75 families from moving out of their home by giving them rent or utility assistance. With that kind of money, $325,000, my goodness you may as well pick every homeless person off the street and give them a place to live.”

Clark added that the city seems to be throwing money at a problem that continues to hurt the city and it may be time to find a different way to spend the money.

“I guess my concern is why the stats are so dismal,” Clark said.

Small said the federal funding was not all directed to the community action program and parts of the funds go to utility and rent assistance and a large portion is used to support shelters.

As for the 51 people who were reached, Small said their numbers are low, because the outreach has just begun and it takes time to build trust with people living on the streets.

“I understand what you are saying,” Clark said. “I guess what I am expressing is a sense of frustration, that it is a chronic problem, and we continue to throw money at it, and it seems never to get any better.”

Councilmember Bart Turner said he was just as frustrated as Clark, but observed that homelessness is not just a problem in Glendale, but in the entire country.

Councilmember Jamie Aldama said Glendale needs to identify a goal – a plan to end homelessness in the city.

“Glendale needs to find a goal. Are we going to end homelessness by 50 percent?” Aldama said. “I’m asking the city to benchmark goals.”

Aldama said the City of Phoenix has set aside its own funding to end homelessness and suggested Glendale needs to do more than make a commitment using federal funds, but also research any possible state funding assistance for which they could apply.