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Central Arizona Shelter Services faces shortfall as Phoenix continues to grapple with surging homelessness

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Phoenix City Councilwoman Kesha Hodge Washington at a 2023 public hearing in downtown Phoenix. (Photo: Arianna Grainey/DigitalFreePress)
Phoenix OKs funding increase at CASS as social services continue to strain
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

Phoenix City Council continues to grapple with myriad challenges on how to serve best the vulnerable population of those experiencing homelessness in and around the municipality.

Found embedded within last week’s formal City Council agenda was item No. 36, which outlined an amendment to the municipal funding level at Central Arizona Shelter Services adding $169,160 to the bottom line bringing the total amount of funding to $5,235,990, which represents the total amount of funding over the five year life of the contract.

“While I do support the measure in general, I do have some questions that go beyond,” said Phoenix City Councilwoman Kesha Hodge Washington during the Feb. 7 public hearing. “As I understand it, there is a shortfall at CASS?”

Founded in 1984, CASS is Arizona’s largest and longest serving emergency shelter program serving people experiencing homelessness.

Phoenix has contracted with CASS to provide emergency shelter services on the Keys Campus since July 1, 2007, records show.

“What is the projected shortfall you are facing this fiscal year?” Councilwoman Hodge Washington asked of Lisa Glow, Central Arizona Shelter Services CEO. “If this shortfall is not made up, what are some of the consequences we may see as a result?”

Ms. Glow pointed out to Phoenix City Council — who voted unanimously for the amended budget amount later in the meeting — the pending shortfall this fiscal year is $1.6 million.

“It’s a 60-day window,” Ms. Glow said of the CASS board of directors voting to maintain existing operations and staffing despite the pending shortfall at the end of the current fiscal year, which ends this July.

“If they can’t bridge the gap … we will have a reduction in services. Along with funding, we have seen an increase in costs, and it is those increased costs that are the result of us scaling up to 600 beds, now 650 beds.”

CASS and Keys to Change, formerly the Human Services Campus, is home to a cadre of vital social services in and around downtown Phoenix — extending into the SunnySlope community with a family center there, city leaders point out.

Ms. Glow outlined a litany of funding factors resulting in the pending $1.6 million shortfall at CASS citing an influx of those seeking services on the heels of legal action regarding what locals call, ‘The Zone.’

“We need ongoing effort from the state as we continue to lobby,” she told members of Phoenix City Council, pointing out CASS missed out on being awarded any of the recently announced $40 million in state grant funding to combat homelessness.

“We honestly have been scrambling,” Ms. Glow said.

Widely reported by radio, television and print media outlets, the recent clean-up efforts that begun in May of last year of the homeless population is the result of a local lawsuit filed against the city by a band of local business owners who successfully argued for the ongoing clean-up efforts in downtown Phoenix between 7th and 16th avenues from Jefferson Street to the railroad tracks.

A regional concern: those experiencing homelessness

Ms. Glow explains Arizona cities and towns provide annual funding to CASS in lieu of establishing their own homeless shelters within municipal borders.

“Have we made inquires to other municipalities to see if they would be willing to increase their contributions to help meet that funding shortfall?” Councilwoman Hodge Washington asked.

“Have other municipalities been made aware of this request? We are currently in this situation because state money you thought would come through did not — is there any way you can partner with the other nonprofits that are already on the campus to help shoulder the increased costs you are experiencing?”

Ms. Glow explained any and all funding sources and solutions are being pursued.

Phoenix City Councilwoman Debra Stark says solving the homelessness crisis in Phoenix is a regional issue.

“I think we need to be making sure that other cities and towns know that were going to find solutions on a regional level,” she said pointing out Phoenix is shouldering all of the responsibility of providing shelter to those in needs throughout the entire region.

“I am still feeling that we are carrying the load — if you don’t want the shelters in your municipality then help us.”

Phoenix City Manager Jeff Barton is expected to offer a funding update to American Rescue Plan Act 2021 dollars still flowing from the federal government from the time of COVID.

“We will be coming back to you Feb. 21 … there is probably no greater priority for those ARPA dollars then our unsheltered population at this point,” Mr. Barton said on the record to City Council. “We will continue to make that a priority.”

Mr. Barton explains he and his team are evaluating available funding from a long term perspective extending into fiscal year 2027-28.

“When I come back on Feb. 21, my anticipation is that whatever funds we have available will be prioritized amongst the unsheltered services, which we have stood up for the past 2.5 years.”

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