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Scottsdale City Council candidates discuss the ongoing crisis of those experiencing homelessness

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Scottsdale City Council candidates offer insights into critical issue

By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

Scottsdale voters Tuesday, July 30 will decide from a field of nine candidates who will fill three seats at Scottsdale City Council during the upcoming primary election.

The city of Scottsdale is hosting a primary election Tuesday, July 30, to elect a mayor and three members of Scottsdale City Council whereas for a candidate to win outright in the July primary election they would have to receive the majority of ballots cast, election officials tell the Digital Free Press.

For races still in contention, a November general election will be held to decide those races, election officials say.

Candidates for Scottsdale City Council are:

The Digital Free Press reached out to each Scottsdale City Council candidate to ask what they make of the ongoing crisis surrounding an increase to the amount of people experiencing homelessness, what they think the city is doing right — and what the municipality could do better to solve the problem and quell public concerns.

This is what they had to say:

Scottsdale City Council Candidate: Steve Casares

*What do you think are the main causes of those who are experiencing homelessness here in Scottsdale?

This is important— of the three main feedback items I gained directly from our residents during the petition process, homelessness was one of the main three (the other two being development and crime rates).

I want to emphasize that irrespective of one’s reason for being homeless, we as Citizens and human beings must treat homeless persons with compassion. We can’t take our lifestyles for granted.

*What are some of the challenges those who are experiencing homelessness face in attaining resources to get off the streets in Scottsdale?

1) Affordable housing. To the credit of the City Council and staff, Resolution 12912 was adopted in September 2023, to assist seniors and families being priced out of their rents. This is a prudent step. However, I believe this issue will continue if there is not any redevelopment in zoned areas and / or judicious approval of new rental units. Then comes the issue of city involvement. It’s an interesting debate, as the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on this over 20 years ago. I encourage everyone to read a summary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in City of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio v. Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, 123 S.Ct. 1389. Although this focuses on other underlying issues, it focuses on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to our Constitution.
2) Mental Health / addiction. This is one of my big three initiatives (the other two being veteran advocacy and resource management). After receiving this question, I went to the Shea corridor, the FLW-101 Area, and south of Thomas road to discuss directly with homeless persons why they are on the streets. Addiction and substance abuse. I hugged and prayed with the three whom I met. We need to push harder on mental healthcare and addiction and subsequent resources.

*Do you think Scottsdale is doing enough to address homelessness? If not, what more could be done?

1) Yes — but only at this point in time. I candidly admit it is difficult to forecast for a situation which does not yet exist, but current rates of construction and matriculation of citizens may exacerbate homelessness. Coincidentally enough, at the time of this writing (22 April), the Supreme Court is hearing a case today on homeless encampments on public property—the question being do homeless persons have a right to do so. The decision will have significant implications for not only Scottsdale, but Arizona. See Grants Pass v. Johnson.

2) Since resolution No. 12912 was adopted to focus on seniors and young families, I think it was a fair contract. But I’d propose that new multi-unit construction should be prioritized on seniors and those families.

Scottsdale City Council Candidate: Tom Durham

*What do you think are the main causes of those who are experiencing homelessness here in Scottsdale?

We have a nationwide shortage of affordable housing. The problem is exacerbated in Scottsdale because of the growth of Arizona as a hub for new jobs, the desirability of Scottsdale as a place to live, especially following COVID, and the fact that we are relatively short of new land on which to build. It’s the age-old story of supply and demand with some new twists due to Scottsdale’s popularity.

Once you no longer have a home, it is harder to get access to resources and to have a permanent place to store clothes, get food, etc. It’s a downward spiral. That is why Scottsdale’s hotel bridge program has been so successful. It provide a “home base” where those experiencing homelessness can find temporary housing while searching for more permanent housing.

The program has been highly successful, as most participants can “bridge” from the program to find more permanent housing within several months. Our police have confirmed that the program operates safely, with minimal calls for service. Contrary to the claims of Rep. Gress, Scottsdale’s program is not ‘housing first.’ This program also provides services to help people get back on their feet. That is part of the reason Scottsdale’s program has been so successful.

*What are some of the challenges those who are experiencing homelessness face in attaining resources to get off the streets in Scottsdale?

We could do even better by expanding on the success of the bridge hotel program. The recent failure to gain county funding for the Paiute project was a disappointment, but we should continue to search for partnerships with other funding sources. I have met with some of the participants in our bridge hotel program, and despite the claims of Rep. Gress — and even some on our own City Council — these participants are not ‘illegal aliens’ or refugees from Phoenix’s ‘Zone,’ but are simply normal people encountering a temporary rough patch.

*Do you think Scottsdale is doing enough to address homelessness? If not, what more could be done?

We must be careful to ensure that our programs stay within our resources and our ability to deliver. San Francisco’s homeless programs have failed, largely because the city has warehoused people without providing services. When this happens, participants get lost in the shuffle. Scottsdale’s programs are small enough that we can monitor and make sure that participants thrive in the programs.

Scottsdale City Council Candidate: Mason Gates

*What do you think are the main causes of those who are experiencing homelessness here in Scottsdale?

Individuals experiencing homelessness, by and large, suffer from either drug addiction or mental health problems. Unfortunately, a select few Scottsdale politicians have shortsightedly declared homelessness to be a ‘housing problem’ and implemented disastrous remedies like the Bridge Housing program.

*What are some of the challenges those who are experiencing homelessness face in attaining resources to get off the streets in Scottsdale?

Those experiencing homelessness do not face challenges in attaining resources to get off the streets so much as they face challenges in accepting help. Oftentimes, individuals who are afflicted by drug addiction or mental health problems refuse services that are offered to them. I commend Scottsdale city employees and nonprofit aid workers for the work they do to ensure that individuals facing homelessness are properly cared for and can obtain the services they need if they desire them.

*What are some of the ways that we can address the homeless situation in Scottsdale better?

Homelessness can be alleviated by strengthening and enforcing existing ordinances that outlaw public vagrancy.

I am hoping that the U.S. Supreme Court this summer rules in favor of Grants Pass, Oregon in Grants Pass v Johnson, a case which poses the question of whether a city’s enforcement against public camping constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. If the court declares that Grants Pass has the right to enforce its anti-camping ordinances, then Scottsdale would be newly empowered to enhance its criminal penalties against public camping. Such a ruling would undoubtedly enhance the quality of life for Scottsdale residents and visitors, while benefiting local business owners.

Even if the court rules in favor of Gloria Johnson, the respondent in the Grants Pass case, making it more difficult to enforce bans on public vagrancy, the Scottsdale City Council should further its collaboration with local charities and nonprofits to provide basic services to fulfill our city’s stated mission of ensuring homelessness is a ‘brief, rare, and non-recurring’ condition.

Scottsdale should seek to partner with community-based social workers to help homeless individuals pursue sobriety and/or secure medical treatment for mental health problems. We must treat our homeless community members who suffer from drug addiction with compassion, rather than enabling their addiction by housing them in hotels that do not enforce sobriety requirements’

*Do you think Scottsdale is doing enough to address homelessness? If not, what more could be done?

Scottsdale is mishandling its approach to homelessness not because of a lack of funding, but because of a misguided policy approach that views homelessness as a condition caused by a lack of affordable housing, rather than a condition caused by mental health and drug addiction problems. Scottsdale does not need to spend more money to address the issue, because plenty of state and federal funding is available to alleviate the struggles our homeless population faces.

The city simply needs to redirect funding away from the Bridge Housing Program and towards increased mental health and drug treatment services. This can be accomplished by partnering with local nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping homeless individuals pick their life back up, find stable housing, and land a job. Former President Ronald Reagan once quipped that the best social program is a job, and I stand by that. The end goal of our efforts to help our homeless community members must be to find them stable housing and a stable job.

Scottsdale City Council Candidate: Adam Kwasman

*What do you think are the main causes of those who are experiencing homelessness here in Scottsdale?

Addiction and mental illness. There are two major types of homelessness, chronic and cyclical homelessness. Each type has its unique challenges and solutions. Chronic homelessness, due to addiction or mental illness, requires a treatment-first approach to maintain public safety as well as the safety, well-being, and dignity of the individual. I am proud to have been endorsed by Rep. Matt Gress as he has been the leader on this issue at the Arizona Legislature. While in the private sector, I hosted meetings between Rep. Gress and leaders of the Homeless ID Project to forge real solutions to these challenging issues. This is an issue that matters deeply to me, and it hurts to see it handled so poorly.

*What are some of the challenges those who are experiencing homelessness face in attaining resources to get off the streets in Scottsdale?

The Scottsdale City Council has failed to create a treatment-first framework for homelessness. Furthermore, the Council has failed to respect private property rights, creating a nebulous and deleterious effect on the community while failing to solve the homelessness crisis. These inconsistencies provide the wrong resources for homeless individuals in need and the community at large.

*What are some of the ways that we can address the homeless situation in Scottsdale better?

By treating chronic homelessness as the public health and public safety crisis it is. That will mean enforcing the law, providing genuine opportunities for rehabilitation, and ending our mistaken beliefs that enabling is not a synonym for compassion. We need to work hand in hand with the Arizona Legislature to ensure that municipal solutions do not counteract the legislature’s plans; we work better together.

For those who are cyclically homeless, we should work with nonprofits like the Homelessness ID Project to provide employment-based resources. With work comes dignity, and with dignity comes success and responsibility. I am confident that, if elected to the City Council I can find nonpartisan solutions to homelessness, and set the example for all Arizona cities.

*Do you think Scottsdale is doing enough to address homelessness? If not, what more could be done?

I believe that Scottsdale has not done enough to address homelessness in both its forms, cyclical and chronic homelessness. I believe that their failure to enact treatment first undercuts all solutions. Scottsdale has not worked diligently with the state legislature to ensure proper program funding and execution, and they have failed to properly protect public safety and private property rights. My plan for homelessness has been endorsed by champions in combating homelessness like Representative Matt Gress and others, and this is something that I care deeply about.

Scottsdale City Council Candidate: Justin Laos

*What do you think are the main causes of those who are experiencing homelessness here in Scottsdale?

There are three main causes of homelessness. Economic hardship, mental illness, and drug addiction. It’s important to understand that just looking to solve homelessness does not solve the underlying issues.

*What are some of the challenges those who are experiencing homelessness face in attaining resources to get off the streets in Scottsdale?

While homelessness has undoubtedly gotten worse in Scottsdale, we should not (for political purposes) pretend the issue is as bad as other Arizona cities. That being said, it’s my mission to make sure it never does.

*What are some of the ways that we can address the homeless situation in Scottsdale better?

Scottsdale needs to be proactive in

  1. Providing reasonable resources relating to the 3 main causes.
  2. Working closely with the state and other cities.
  3. Setting clear goals and accountability for programs and participants.

*Do you think Scottsdale is doing enough to address homelessness? If not, what more could be done?

My No. 1 job on the City Council will be ensuring safety for all citizens. Any kind of homeless camps or loitering will not be tolerated. We will help those who want/need it but our streets and parks will continue to be clean and safe.

Scottsdale City Council Candidate: Bob Lettieri

*What do you think are the main causes of those who are experiencing homelessness here in Scottsdale?

Homelessness is often a complex issue with multifaceted causes, and Scottsdale is no exception. While each person’s situation is unique, some common factors contributing to homelessness in Scottsdale and other places could include:

Mental Health Issues: Many people experiencing homelessness in Scottsdale and elsewhere struggle with mental health conditions, which can make it challenging to maintain housing stability and access necessary support services.

Substance Abuse: Substance abuse disorders can contribute to homelessness by straining relationships, impairing job performance, and depleting financial resources.

Domestic Violence: Survivors of domestic violence may become homeless as they flee abusive situations and struggle to find safe and stable housing.

Systemic Factors: Structural issues like systemic racism, discrimination, and inadequate social safety nets can disproportionately affect marginalized communities, increasing their vulnerability to homelessness.

*What are some of the challenges those who are experiencing homelessness face in attaining resources to get off the streets in Scottsdale?

Barriers to Employment: Homeless individuals may face challenges in securing employment due to lack of stable housing, limited access to transportation, or gaps in their work history. Additionally, they may lack necessary documents such as identification or have health issues that affect their ability to work.

Access to Healthcare: Health issues are common among the homeless population, but accessing healthcare services can be challenging due to lack of insurance, transportation, or the ability to pay for medical care.Mental Health and Substance Abuse: Many individuals experiencing homelessness in Scottsdale struggle with mental health issues or substance abuse disorders. However, accessing treatment and support services can be difficult due to financial barriers, stigma, or lack of available resources.

Social Stigma and Discrimination: Homelessness is often stigmatized, and individuals experiencing homelessness may face discrimination in various aspects of life, including employment, housing, and social interactions.

Limited Support Systems: Without stable housing, homeless individuals may lack the support systems that many people take for granted, such as family or friends who can provide assistance during difficult times.

*What are some of the ways that we can address the homeless situation in Scottsdale better?

Supportive Housing Programs: Implementing supportive housing programs that combine affordable housing with wraparound services such as mental health treatment, substance abuse counseling, job training, and case management can help individuals experiencing homelessness address underlying issues and achieve long-term stability.

Prevention Programs: Investing in prevention programs to address the root causes of homelessness, such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of access to healthcare, can help prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless in the first place. This could include financial assistance programs, job training initiatives, and access to affordable healthcare services.

Coordination of Services: Improving coordination among government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and service providers can ensure that individuals experiencing homelessness have access to the resources and support they need. This could involve creating centralized intake systems, implementing case management models, and fostering collaboration among stakeholders.

Addressing Mental Health and Substance Abuse: Investing in mental health and substance abuse treatment services is essential to supporting individuals experiencing homelessness who struggle with these issues. This could involve expanding access to mental health care, increasing funding for substance abuse treatment programs, and implementing harm reduction strategies.

Community Engagement and Education: Engaging the community in efforts to address homelessness through education, advocacy, and volunteer opportunities can help foster empathy, reduce stigma, and build support for solutions. This could involve community forums, awareness campaigns, and outreach efforts to raise awareness about homelessness and its underlying causes.

Housing First Approach: Adopting a Housing First approach, which prioritizes providing stable housing to individuals experiencing homelessness without preconditions, can help expedite their transition off the streets and into permanent housing while addressing their other needs. This can be done by partnering with organizations like Team Challenge and House of Refuge

*Do you think Scottsdale is doing enough to address homelessness? If not, what more could be done?

Evaluation of Current Programs: Conducting a thorough evaluation of existing homelessness programs and services in Scottsdale can help identify areas of strength and areas needing improvement. This assessment should involve input from stakeholders, including individuals experiencing homelessness, service providers, local government officials, and community members.

Gap Analysis: Identifying gaps in the current system of services and resources for individuals experiencing homelessness can help prioritize areas for intervention. This could involve assessing unmet needs, barriers to accessing services, and areas where resources are insufficient.

Resource Allocation: Ensuring adequate funding and resources are allocated to homelessness initiatives is essential for their success. This may involve reallocating existing resources, seeking additional funding sources, or leveraging partnerships with other organizations and agencies.

Coordination and Collaboration: Enhancing coordination and collaboration among government agencies, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and the community is crucial for maximizing the impact of homelessness efforts in Scottsdale. This could involve establishing formal partnerships, improving information sharing, and aligning strategies to address common goals.

Innovation and Best Practices: Exploring innovative approaches and best practices from other cities or regions can provide valuable insights for improving homelessness interventions in Scottsdale. This could involve pilot programs, demonstration projects, or partnerships with research institutions to test new strategies and evaluate their effectiveness.

Community Engagement: Engaging the community in efforts to address homelessness through education, outreach, and volunteer opportunities can help build support and foster a sense of collective responsibility. This could involve public awareness campaigns, community forums, and opportunities for residents to get involved in homelessness initiatives.

Addressing homelessness effectively requires a holistic approach that tackles these root causes while providing immediate support and resources to those in need. It often involves collaboration between government agencies, nonprofits, businesses, and community members to implement solutions such as affordable housing initiatives, mental health services, job training programs, and support for survivors of domestic violence.

Scottsdale City Council Candidate: Maryann McAllen

*What do you think are the main causes of those who are experiencing homelessness here in Scottsdale?

One could not venture to know why any person is experiencing Homelessness. In general it could be a long list of many issues that have persisted in a person’s life that would bring them to experiencing homelessness or it could be in an instant for others. What is distressing is the large number of Veterans, Seniors and teens who are experiencing homelessness.

*What are some of the challenges those who are experiencing homelessness face in attaining resources to get off the streets in Scottsdale?

First, let me say this is a human issue, throughout our country people are experiencing homelessness for the first time and those who have adapted to living on the streets for extended time. Here in Scottsdale, it is an issue and is becoming more common, whether these persons are from another area and coming to our city for help is to be determined.

The city has put many resources in place through our Human Services Department who operate our social service centers at Vista Del Camino, Paiute Center, and both Senior Centers. The Human Services Department works closely with the Police and Fire Departments on referrals that come up regularly.

Our Human Services Commission (citizen board) works within our community as well as with non-profits in other cities to evaluate and work on the needs of those experiencing Homelessness. There is an extensive network of organizations that work to help those experiencing homelessness. Our local Churches have done a great job working with the City and nonprofits to help subsidize the needs in our community. The needs are not just shelter, they are food, clothing, showers, finding jobs, counseling, healthcare, schooling for children and much more.

*What are some of the ways that we can address the homeless situation in Scottsdale better?

Our City does a good job on this and continually strives to do better. The city has an internal team of “Navigators” for lack of a better term that meet on a regular basis (Fire, Police, Neighborhood services, Community Services, Parks).

They look at referrals of new persons experiencing homelessness as well as some that may be chronic. The leadership of the city has an internal network of folks who are well versed in these issues and the needs of this population. I know the police get regular phone calls about persons experiencing homelessness and or vagrancy, they work hard to refer our citizens to where they can best be served.

Making sure our city receives proper federal funding and grants for our social services is extremely important.

*Do you think Scottsdale is doing enough to address homelessness? If not, what more could be done?

Scottsdale has always been on the forefront of Social Services, but we should always seek to do better. The city could create a sub-committee of citizens under the Human Services Commission to address the homelessness concerns and they could pursue answers and solutions to the challenges that arise. We must also work to keep our relationships with state leaders on a positive note, so that we have input on how our city is treated when federal funds arise that could be used to combat issues in our community.

Scottsdale City Council Candidate: Tammy Caputi

*What do you think are the main causes of those who are experiencing homelessness here in Scottsdale?

Skyrocketing rents and housing costs are the main causes here in Scottsdale, for our seniors and our single parents.

*What are some of the challenges those who are experiencing homelessness face in attaining resources to get off the streets in Scottsdale?

Scottsdale has focused on improving access to resources and solutions:

  • Coordinated Entry Points and Housing Assessments
  • Public and private subsidized housing programs
  • Faith based and other shelter programs
  • Permanent Supportive Housing – Housing programs specific to those with mental health and/or substance abuse disorders
  • Rapid re-housing

What are some of the ways that we can address the homeless situation in Scottsdale better?

Day Relief Centers – Shelter and refuge from heat/cold weather during the day. Community Bridges Inc provides navigation and referrals to employment, shelter, obtaining necessary documents and case management services.

Outreach and navigation – Outreach to provide resources and referrals for services and shelter. Targeted outreach with Scottsdale PD and navigation services at the libraries.

Emergency Bridge Housing – Temporary, safe, overnight shelter for our seniors and single parents with minor children. (any persons from “The Zone” or Title 42, or using drugs, are not eligible for the Scottsdale Bridge Housing Program).

Scottsdale Works Program – Day Labor opportunities. Participants are provided minimum wage compensation for hours worked and case management services to support persons ready to work towards housing or substance use disorder.

Do you think Scottsdale is doing enough to address homelessness? If not, what more could be done?

Our most recent point-in-time count (2023) showed 64 individuals experiencing homelessness in our city, and our staff and community partners are in contact with and know most of these individuals.

We have several existing social services resources, such as Paiute Community Center, Vista Del Camino Community Center, Granite Reef and Via Linda Senior Centers, which could be more fully funded. We should continue to apply for federal funds for Community Development Block Grants and distribute them to organizations that are moving the needle on Homelessness with measurable results, like Family Promise.

We do not provide resources to illegal immigrants, non-law abiding citizens, or people from “The Zone”.

Editor’s Note: Scottsdale City Council Jan Dubauskas did not respond to questions.

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