It is not really a hidden problem, homeless in Fountain Hills can be seen pushing a shopping cart loaded with possessions along the streets or standing at a busy intersection displaying a sign asking for financial help. A little over a year ago a homeless man made an appearance at a couple of Town Council meetings asking the town to provide shelter.
At the council retreat session in February, Town Manager Grady Miller updated the council on the town’s participation in regional efforts to address homelessness. It is a problem that has been exacerbated by the pandemic over the past year.
Miller has met since late in 2017 with other managers from the East Valley to discussion the issue and how it might be addressed at a regional level. They have discussed best practices, resources and community approaches. More recently, participation in these sessions has included Maricopa County, Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care, law enforcement officials and other stakeholders.
In September of 2019, the Fountain Hills Town Council was presented with a resolution in support of East Valley efforts to address homelessness.
Miller noted that, with the exception of the larger cities – Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe – most Valley communities do not have the human services staff or resources to address the issue singularly. He said as a result of the East Valley effort, the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) agreed to take the lead to address homelessness as a regional issue.
MAG conducted a national study of effective regional practices and created an inventory of local strategies. MAG has also created a spreadsheet to raise awareness of funding resources available to support strategies being developed.
MAG hopes to identify the gap between what is currently being spent on programs and the amount needed to implement new efforts to address the homeless issue. With the gap identified, MAG will then work to develop fundraising to close the gap.
Other considerations related to homelessness include siting for new housing, shelter and services. An objective in these efforts is to geographically disperse homelessness assistance throughout the region.
MAG conducts a periodic point-in-time homeless count with the last effort being conducted in January 2020. At that time, the MAG count showed Fountain Hills with no homeless. That is more than a year ago and pre-pandemic, however, both the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and the Extended Hands Food Bank in Fountain Hills state that while numbers are low, homelessness does appear in the community.
Ann Steer, a volunteer with Extended Hands Food Bank who oversees warehouse operations and distribution, said they do not specifically track homeless who come in for help. She estimates about 10 people to be local homeless.
She said that while some people are clearly living out of their vehicle, they do not ask where they come from.
People who ask for additional assistance are directed to appropriate agencies, according to Steer.
MCSO Capt. Larry Kratzer, commander for the Sheriff’s Office District 7 based in Fountain Hills, said there is no definitive count done by deputies. However, he notes that based on calls and contacts, deputies agree with the food bank estimate of about 10 homeless individuals in the community.
“The contact for these individuals depends on the reason we are contacting them,” Kratzer said. “Typically, we do not contact them and allow them to be unless we get a call for service that they are disturbing people or a business.”
Unless a property owner or a business wants an individual trespassed, MCSO will likely see if they can offer help, but most likely the individual will decline, according to Kratzer.
“We have contacts for resources if the individuals desire some recommendations or help, but often times we find that the people we contact are not very interested in this,” he said. “They typically want to be left alone. If the individual was interested in trying to locate assistance at a shelter, we can assist them by trying to make some phone calls to see if any shelters have availability. We often find that the shelters are full and there are not openings.
“If there was a shelter and the individual could get in, we can offer them a courtesy ride if the location is within a reasonable distance or if calls for service allow. Sometimes, the shelters or other resources can provide transportation options, too. These shelters are located throughout the Valley and typically don’t have limitations on who they will take if they have room.”
It is typical for deputies to carry extra bottled water during warmer weather that they can hand out if needed, according to Kratzer.
In addition to participation in the East Valley Consortium on Homelessness, the Town of Fountain Hills makes an annual contribution of $24,200 to Extended Hands Food Bank, and it participates in the Urban Counties Program administered by Maricopa County. The town’s allocation of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) federal funding goes toward homeless programs and services, with $24,000 allocated for emergency housing and utility assistance in 2020.
Fountain Hills also participates in the Tempe Community Action Agency, a non-profit human service organization. This group made $24,000 available to the town for emergency housing and utility assistance in 2020.
Town staff is recommending $50,000 in the FY2021/2022 budget be allocated as a place holder for regional program or services.