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Paradise Valley mayoral candidates discuss how best to tackle regional homelessness crisis

From left are Paradise Valley mayoral candidates Mary Hamway, Mark Stanton and Anna Thomasson. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress)
Paradise Valley mayoral candidates talk collaborative approaches to regional issue
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

Town of Paradise Valley voters will elect a new mayor — from a field of 3 — this election season.

Community leaders Mary Hamway, Mark Stanton and Anna Thomasson are vying for the top elected position at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive, as three-term Paradise Valley Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner has opted to not seek re-election to local office.

Voters will take to the polls Tuesday, July 30, to elect lawmakers across the nation including the next president of the United States — and the Town of Paradise Valley is no exception.

The Digital Free Press reached out to each Paradise Valley mayoral candidate to offer readers a better understanding of what role they think town government should play when it comes to helping those experiencing homelessness, and how, if elected mayor, each would work to find collaborative and regional solutions to the growing concern.

This is what they had to say:

Anna Thomasson

*The Town of Paradise Valley, in concert with other municipalities across the Valley, offers funding to outreach efforts to serve and rehabilitate those experiencing homelessness in the Phoenix area. What role do you think the Town of Paradise Valley should play in this effort?

Homelessness has increased over 70% in Maricopa County since 2017 and any issue that impacts the entire county impacts Paradise Valley; we should contribute to the solution. We have funded Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) since 1985 and should continue to do so. Last year, we made an additional $200,000 investment in the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) contract with Community Bridges allowing us direct access to housing and resources for the homeless.

We rely on other cities in Maricopa County for support in police and fire services and we receive millions in funding annually from MAG for flood control and street improvement funding. This is a great partnership. We are not an island and work with our neighboring cities to keep Paradise Valley the 1-acre, single family residential community we love.

*Are people experiencing homelessness a threat to the Town of Paradise Valley?

Those experiencing homelessness occasionally traverse through our town, but because we have only one bus route (along Tatum), no public parks, no public restrooms, no grocery stores, and no shelter, we are not an attractive location for those who are homeless. And, thanks to our investment funding resources for the homeless and our attentive and vigilant community, we can help assure those experiencing homelessness in our community get the resources they need to live more comfortably.

*What do you think are the long-term benefits of investing in outreach services for people experiencing homelessness in metropolitan Phoenix?

In addition to the high cost of housing, homelessness is often the result of people experiencing chronic health conditions, domestic abuse, disability, substance abuse or mental health issues. Both CASS and the MAG Community Bridges programs offer wraparound services of job placement and physical and mental health care which have proven to reduce future homelessness.

*Do you think the Town of Paradise Valley ought to be a leader in helping to alleviate concerns around the homeless population?

As a small community without an active homeless population, we do not need to lead, but we need to help. During our last council meeting study session, I expressed support for a $200,000 investment in the MAG contract with Community Bridges program which allows our Paradise Valley Police Department to make direct referrals for immediate housing and wrap around, supportive services for those experiencing homelessness in our town.

Mary Hamway
Mary Hamway

*The Town of Paradise Valley, in concert with other municipalities across the Valley, offers funding to outreach efforts to serve and rehabilitate those experiencing homelessness in the Phoenix area. What role do you think the Town of Paradise Valley should play in this effort?

The Town of Paradise Valley best serves the region and its residents by partnering with neighboring communities and other social services agencies, who have the expertise and staff to help those experiencing homelessness. MAG (Maricopa Association of Governments) takes a leadership role with its initiatives on homelessness, and the town supported this by contributing $200,000 last year, and the current council is considering authorizing the same amount in this year’s budget. In 2022, the town partnered with MAG on the Pathways Home: Regional Action Plan for Local and Tribal Governments, with the goal of reducing homelessness by 25% by 2027.

The town contributed $25,000 to help with the Regional Education Campaign. An additional $65,000 is being proposed in this year’s budget to be shared by CASS (Central Arizona Shelter Service) of $55,000 and Duet: Partners in Health and Aging, for $10,000.

*Are people experiencing homelessness a threat to the Town of Paradise Valley?

Homelessness is a problem is every state in our nation, including Arizona. Over the past three years, Arizona’s homeless population increased by nearly 30%. There are at least 167 nonprofit and public companies spending over $1 billion, or $47,200 per homeless person every year.

And, amazingly, 7,600 homeless people went without shelter in 2023, and the problem is only getting worse. The biggest threat to Paradise Valley, at this time, is the legislature passing bills to allow more density on private lots through ADU’s (Accessory Dwelling Units), disregarding all local zoning laws and ordinances. Fortunately, this year the bills were limited to municipalities with a population of 75,000, so Paradise Valley dodged a bullet.

*What do you think are the long-term benefits of investing in outreach services for people experiencing homelessness in metropolitan Phoenix?

If Maricopa County is ever to meet the goal of reducing homelessness by 30% by 2027, much more has to be done. The best approach for Paradise Valley is to be a good neighbor, contributing to agencies that know how to serve this population.

For example, CASS, the largest emergency shelter in Arizona, increased its downtown shelter from 470 beds to 600 in 2022. Cass is serving 23% more young adults than last year, and the veteran’s population increased by 11%. CASS is also serving 30% more seniors over the age of 55 than last year. By contributing $200,000 to MAG, and $65,000 to CASS and Duet, the current council has done an excellent job of allocating the annual Community Services Funding Program to best serve our population, showing that Paradise Valley is a good regional neighbor.

*Do you think the Town of Paradise Valley ought to be a leader in helping to alleviate concerns around the homeless population?

Paradise Valley leads by being a good regional neighbor, working with social service agencies and neighboring communities to help reduce homelessness.

Mark Stanton
Mark Stanton

*The Town of Paradise Valley, in concert with other municipalities across the Valley, offers funding to outreach efforts to serve and rehabilitate those experiencing homelessness in the Phoenix area. What role do you think the Town of Paradise Valley should play in this effort?

Homelessness is a fundamental problem that impacts all municipalities whether large or small, affluent, or not.  I firmly believe that the responsible role of every municipality is to be alert, aware and engaged on issues to protect their residents.

Although Paradise Valley does not currently have a direct problem with homelessness, our region does. To engage on this issue, the town has provided funding to support Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS).  CASS is Arizona’s largest and longest serving emergency shelter service working to rehabilitate adults and families experiencing homelessness.

I believe that supporting CASS is the right and responsible approach to take as a municipal stakeholder to help address this issue. To learn more visit www.CASSAZ.org.

*Are people experiencing homelessness a threat to the Town of Paradise Valley?

I do not believe the word “threat” is appropriate.  Every municipality has experience with, or potential of, a homelessness issue in their community. Paradise Valley is no different. That is why supporting homeless services, and specifically CASS, helps the greater humane good for our region. While Paradise Valley does not have a homelessness issue now, that does not mean it never will. Being a responsible community that works with surrounding municipalities to be aware of the homelessness issue and supporting those professional resources like CASS to address the issue is responsible, humane, and good regional community citizenship.

*What do you think are the long-term benefits of investing in outreach services for people experiencing homelessness in metropolitan Phoenix?

Homelessness is not an issue that can be ignored.  Supporting professional services like CASS regarding the homelessness issue is an investment to help Paradise Valley be part of a solution. Our role as a thoughtful and engaged community stakeholder will help bring long-term benefits, especially if homelessness should ever become an issue in Paradise Valley. 

*Do you think the Town of Paradise Valley ought to be a leader in helping to alleviate concerns around the homeless population?

All municipalities have a stake in the regional issues of homelessness, crime prevention and quality of life. Paradise Valley does not need to be a “leader” on the issue, but rather an active, alert and engaged municipal partner for our region.

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