Chandler counts unsheltered people in the city - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler counts unsheltered people in the city

January 31st, 2023 SanTan Sun News
Chandler counts unsheltered people in the city

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

At about 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 20, a Chandler resident was reportedly upset that his dog wouldn’t quit barking because there was a homeless woman in his alley.

Police say 41-year-old James A. Taylor confronted the woman, Jessica Luz, and told her to leave. She refused. He went back into his home, retrieved a firearm, and then once again confronted Luz, telling her to leave.

Once again, she refused. Taylor later admitted to police that he shot her three times, twice when she was on the ground, because he was upset about his failed suicide attempt the day before.

Luz died and Taylor is in jail facing charges of first-degree murder and possession of a weapon by a prohibited possessor.

The city’s community navigators, who deal directly with the homeless, knew Luz.

“One of our homeless people got shot in an alley on Friday just for being in the alley,” said Quiana Thorvund, one of eight navigators who work directly with the homeless, trying to get them whatever services they can.

Each year the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandates communities that receive its grants conduct a count of their homeless population. This year’s Point-in-Time count was conducted Jan. 24.

It was not a good day to count unsheltered people. It was 32 degrees when about 60 city staff and volunteers left the Chandler Fire Administration Building just after 6 a.m.

They were split into just under two dozen teams, each assigned a grid to try and find people living on the street. Each navigator led one team because they know many of those people personally. They also know where they like to stay and what signs to look for.

A lot of money is on the line in finding every homeless person in Chandler. HUD awards funds based partly on the count. Leah Powell, the city’s neighborhood resources director, said some of that money helps pay part of the salary of at least six navigators.

But on a cold morning, the homeless were looking for some place warm to sleep, making it harder to find them.

“From what I understand, a lot of them are in abandoned homes,” Thorvund said. “It’s just too cold. Some clients, they don’t tell us most of the time, but some of them will.”

They rarely give up the location of the abandoned home. Powell said navigators will do everything they can to help the homeless, but they won’t let them break the law.

Chandler reports its numbers to the Maricopa Association of Governments, which will spend several months analyzing the data before it releases the counts from last week.

The numbers that MAG documents are the actual count, but it’s not necessarily the number that HUD will use to award money. Powell said HUD uses multiple streams of data, including how many clients the city has.

In fiscal year 2021-22, that number was 442 households. The city had a 99% success rate in positive exits, which means getting them into a shelter or a program. However, that number will come down, Powell said.

HUD requires program exit after no contact for 90 days. Data is being updated to reflect that standard.

Thorvund’s group found six unsheltered people in about three hours of searching a small portion of the city between downtown and the airport. She said most unsheltered people stay close to where they can get some services or support. That means downtown.

They also will stay close to bus routes because they typically don’t have transportation. So there will likely be few homeless people south of Germann Road.

Those who don’t stay near a food pantry, or other groups that provide help, usually stay in an area where they have family or friends who are helping them out.

The count breaks down the homeless into two main categories, sheltered and unsheltered. The Point-in-Time count is looking for the unsheltered. The city knows how many are being sheltered at any time.

There is only one homeless shelter in Chandler, which is run by a AZCEND. It’s called I-HELP. They each take turns hosting about two dozen people. The city also works with a few hotels to provide emergency shelter to the most vulnerable.

The wait list for the emergency shelter for families is about six weeks.

“You kind of wonder about the word ‘emergency,’” Powell said.

Non-congregate emergency shelter generally lasts for about 90 days and a navigator checks on them daily.

Families with small children comprise one priority. Another is anyone with a medical condition.

“We will get people who are coming straight from the emergency room,” Powell said. “We’ve had that happen several times. And we know that because they’re coming out with a medical condition, the chances of them surviving on the street are diminished. So that’s the kind of person that we will go ahead and put into the hotel program.”

The final group that gets priority for the non-congregate emergency shelter are seniors.

Thorvund said the best thing about the Point-in-Time count is identifying veterans who are homeless, who are helped by specially trained navigators. The government provides all kinds of resources to help them back on their feet.

Thorvund said city workers get a variety of responses from the people they try to help.

One of the people counted on Jan. 24 was new to her. She asked for his name, and she said he gave her a false one. He said he didn’t need or want any help.

Others are more willing to accept help. Navigators can assist in getting identification, replacing a Social Security card and help in finding housing. It won’t happen quickly, but they actually do get to place some who stay with the program into affordable housing.

But some people don’t want the help.

“‘I’ve heard of you navigators,’” Thorvund quoted one person she tried to help. “You’re just trying to get us off the street!’

“Yeah, that would be the point,” she said.