Tucson Homeless

Veterans and those facing chronic homelessness in Southern Arizona face a variety of challenges, and several organizations helping the community recently received funding from the federal government.

Several local nonprofits will benefit from roughly $8 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The money will go to 28 programs in Pima County to help with specific at-risk populations. Some address youth and families, some are focused on women fleeing domestic abuse, some are specifically for veterans and some are for people who are chronically homeless, which means they have been homeless for a long period of time and experience other contributing factors which keep them in that situation.

Claudia Powell, who chairs the Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness, said a portion of the HUD grants allow providers to offer supportive services, which is crucial. There are some grants that provide housing but won’t allow the money to go toward “wraparound” services.

“For someone who’s lived outside for a long time, rather than just putting them in an apartment and saying ‘See you later,’ they might need mental health or substance abuse counseling, help finding a job or managing money, help getting access to entitlements, so there’s a lot of different things that people need and now with these grants we can do that,” she said.

The City of Tucson’s Housing and Community Development Department received about $2.3 million for its five programs. While the city receives the funds, the money passes through to various agencies that work with clients. Their partnership with Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse, for example, works to help women and children fleeing domestic violence enter a rapid rehousing program. Their Operation Safe at Home program focuses primarily on homeless veterans, but also meets the needs of chronically homeless people.

Jodie Earll Barnes, a City of Tucson Community Services Project supervisor, said the city government partners with organizations for this work because they can offer expertise in grant writing and administration, which is helpful when applying for highly competitive funding opportunities.

“We also are able to act as a go-between with the agencies and HUD to make sure we get all the reports we compile about what services are being provided,” Barnes said. “Essentially, it allows the agencies to serve the most chronically homeless individuals and families with quality programs.”

Our Family Services is a local non-profit that has received grants from HUD in various amounts for several years, with this year’s total at around $800,000. The money makes up a significant amount of their budget for housing programs.

Laurie Mazerbo, the Chief Program Officer at Our Family Services, said they have a new program that just started last July. It’s rapid rehousing specifically for homeless youth between the ages of 18 to 24. The HUD money allows them to quickly get clients into a place of their own, where they subsidize their rent while providing case management services to help them afford rent on their own. They have other programs that focus on different demographics, but all their programs focus on assisting people to financial independence.

“Everything we do is out of office and we work with landlords in our community, the clients pick where they want to live,” Mazerbo said. “We give them an amount within market rate and they can stay in an apartment that is close to where they work, close to where they go to school, if they have children it could be close to their children’s schools. It increases the chances of clients success when they choose where they live.”

There is high demand for rapid rehousing right now. Mazerbo said TPCH does an analysis every year to identify where the gaps are in funding for community needs, and rapid rehousing was one of the most critical.

The Southern Arizona Aids Foundation is another major housing resource that receives grants from HUD. This year they received $142,000 for two permanent housing programs. 

SAAF owns seven residential properties in Tucson with 83 units where they house low-income or no-income clients, according to Luis Ortega, the director of programs. The organization also does “scattered site housing” where they subsidize rents for clients who live in individual apartment units scattered across the community.

In addition, SAAF has housing programs in Flagstaff and Yuma. In the last fiscal year, they filled just over 310 households for 575 people. Ortega said they have a team of about 20 case workers who focus just on housing needs.

SAAF’s clients are often eligible for permanent supportive housing based on their income status but also because living with HIV and AIDS is considered a disabling condition. Ortega said they just want to make sure their clients are connected to care.

“It’s definitely a different picture than it was even 15 or 20 years ago,” he said. “When folks are connected to care and seeing a provider regularly their health outcomes are significantly improved. A lot of our clients who are aging have been [HIV] positive for 20 or 30 years plus years and are now just dealing with aging issues that anyone would deal with regardless of their HIV status.”

Ortega said housing has been one of the primary needs that they’ve seen and agencies like SAAF across the country really try to focus on it.

“When folks are homeless, near homeless or not stably housed we know that they have poor health outcomes,” he said. “We use a housing-first model because when folks don’t have a place to stay or anything to eat they’re likely not prioritizing their HIV disease. So our program is looking to house people as soon as possible in stable and safe housing so they don’t have to worry about where they’re going to sleep tonight and then can focus on the other things going on like going to a doctor visit.”

While grants from the federal government are integral to the success of these community-based programs, it’s more of a Band-Aid than a real solution to the problem. 

Mazerbo from Our Family Services said there are barriers in people’s lives that contribute to housing instability such as access to affordable child care, quality education and job training. These obstacles could be better addressed by lawmakers.

She said a more sustainable and permanent funding source from state and federal governments would also go a long way, instead of doling out grants in different amounts every year. Barnes, with the City of Tucson, said there is always a demand for more financial support.

“The funding is essential to providing services and there is never enough funding,” she said. “There are many more people that are homeless on the streets that need services that we’re not able to provide because our funds are limited.”

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