Mesa program takes different approach in trying to solve homelessness problem

A program in Mesa is proving successful in helping get people off the streets.

The program, called Off The Streets, is taking a unique approach to the homeless issue that Valley cities, along with other cities in the U.S., have been experiencing. Organizers say not everyone will thrive in a traditional shelter program, and that’s where this program comes in.

"I don’t know where I would be right now, if I didn’t get into this program," said Justin Klien.

For Klien, Off The Streets has helped change his life. Klien, who is an Army veteran, is applying for new apartments after falling on hard times.

"We have a lot of families in our program, and a lot of older, disabled individuals," said Mesa Community Services Deputy Director Lindsey Balinkie.

Balinkie says the city is seeing more people experiencing homelessness, who would thrive better in an environment that differs from a shelter.

"Having the hotel rooms is a little bit of a nurturing environment," said Balinkie. "It allows people to come to a safe place."

The City of Mesa contracts with non-profit Community Bridges to run the program. Clients receive resources like food, clothing, and mentorship from staff during an average 67-day stay.

"There’s a lot of services tied to it, so it’s not just a room in a hotel," said Balinkie.

Clients must be referred to the program, obey all rules, and work on a long-term housing plan. It's something that 74% of the more than 1,600 clients have successfully graduated into, since the program started in 2020.  

"It’s important that we try to get as far ahead of this as we can," said Mesa Mayor John Giles.

Mayor Giles said the program is part of a multi-pronged approach towards solving a nationwide and local crisis.

"This is one of the good legacies of the COVID pandemic: we’ve been able to have some access to emergency Federal money that’s allowed us to invest in emergency shelters, so we can stay ahead of sleeping in parks and encampments," said Mayor Giles.

Clients also receive the empathy from staff members like Anne Marie Johnston. Johnston was once in their shoes.

"I could share my past with other people," said Johnston. "TGhat could help maybe give them a vision of what their life could be like, if they start getting on the right track."

The program is on track to expand as well, with Mesa planning to purchase the 70-room Grand Hotel for its future location.

As for Klien, he said he is thankful for a path foreword to better days.

"Very helpful," said Klien. "Very helpful." 

Off The Streets - City of Mesa