Ellie Hutchinson grew up in a rural area near the east coast. She became pregnant in her late teens and found herself living out of her car and showering at a community center.

“As you make your way through the world you try to thrive and succeed,” Hutchinson said. “Then you find yourself just trying to survive, and never able to get ahead.

“It is (more) difficult with a young child.”

Hutchinson made her way to Arizona and turned her life around. Today, she makes it her mission to help the homeless and works to prevent people from being without a home.

She has masters’ degrees in special education and theology/public leadership and is seeking ordination with the United Church of Christ. During her journey she has become associated with the outreach of The Fountains United Methodist Church in Fountain Hills.

Hutchinson views the issue of homelessness from a regional perspective, with a need for area communities and agencies to band together to address the problem.

“All communities within Arizona need to take some ownership and do their part to address homelessness,” Hutchinson said.

At their May 18 regular session, Town Council members heard a presentation from Amy St. Peter with the Maricopa Association of Government (MAG) homelessness program.

MAG is attempting to align its regional efforts with community goals and concerns, St. Peter said, with the overall effort aimed at reducing homelessness, increasing access to assistance and provide a safety net that focuses on prevention.

For its part, the Town of Fountain Hills has included $50,000 in its 2021/2022 fiscal year budget to be directed to the MAG efforts. The council will vote to finalize the budget at its June 1 session.

The actual homeless numbers in Fountain Hills appear to be almost negligible. An official “Point in Time” homeless count done more than a year ago indicated the number of homeless in Fountain Hills was “0.” However, estimates by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and the Extended Hands Food Bank indicate numbers up to 10 or so seasonally. Neither agency track homelessness specifically.

In her presentation to the council, St. Peter presented a number of data maps to depict the regional scope of the issue. One substantial indicator for Fountain Hills was vulnerability based on percentage of income spent on housing. A map based on data provided by the American Community Survey (2015-2019) showed there are significant areas of Fountain Hills where residents pay in excess of 36 percent of their income on housing. In the downtown area the number is greater than 46 percent.

According to St. Peter, the MAG effort has a vision that “all communities in the region are strong, safe and healthy communities.” The stated mission of the effort is to “reduce and prevent homelessness through collaboration across all sectors, making homelessness rare, brief and one time.”

On the heels of the pandemic and alarming increases in the number of homeless in the Valley, MAG is working toward developing a program to address the concern. The presentation to the council was to bring officials up to date on the progress of the effort. The presentation highlighted the regional strategies with the next step being development of tactics toward implementation.

More information is available at azmag.gov/programs/homelessness.