New Arizona homelessness council convenes amid mounting housing crisis

More than 14,000 people across Arizona are experiencing homelessness, and on June 21, Governor Katie Hobbs, along with dozens of people and organizations from across the state, met to tackle the growing issues.

A day prior, Gov. Hobbs announced who will be joining the Interagency and Community Council on Homelessness and Housing, a council that was reinstated by an executive order Gov. Hobbs issued in January, during her first week in office. 

Just over 40 people or entities, ranging from homeless shelters, non-profits, mayors, tribal and state-run organizations, were listed as members of the council. The meeting on June 21 is the first of many meetings to come.

"Our convening today couldn’t come at a more important time," said Gov. Hobbs. "In fact, families in Arizona with extremely low incomes are less likely to find available and affordable places to live than households in 46 other U.S. states and D.C."

Gov. Hobbs said the topic hits close to home for her.

"As you may know, my first job out of college was working with homeless youth here in Phoenix, and I am proud to stand here today as the first social worker ever to be elected governor in the entire United States."

The council’s membership also includes those who have experienced homelessness themselves.

"I ran into so many barriers to get the help I needed to get my family out of that hotel and into housing," said Joselyn Wilkinson with the Arizona Housing Coalition. "It can be solved. We can get folks into housing, and it doesn’t have to be so hard."

This diverse group is tasked with developing and implementing a plan, while getting to the core of the problem and serving as a central policy development and planning resource for the state on housing insecurity.

"Now comes the hard part," said Joan Serviss, Director of the Arizona Department of Housing. "Really, what that means is ensuring that we leverage those dollars to have the greatest impact, and provide quick occupancy housing solutions and support shovel-ready development to meet our state's housing challenges, and that’s where you all come in."

The council is meeting as the state continues to deal with a homeless issue that does not appear to be going away.

"They come back and go. I think it’s just a matter of time honestly they don’t have anywhere else to go," said Edna Castillo.

Castillo works at a chain retailer located by Perry Park in Phoenix. She said a few months ago, the homelessness problem got so bad, that calling the police became one of her regular duties.

"All the homeless would make themselves at home here," Castillo recounted. "They would have TVs, couches, plugged in. They would shower outside. We had to gate everything around the store 'cause it was pretty bad. There were needles. They would come inside and buy things, and we would find needles and all kinds of things."

Castillo said the crowds are starting to grow again, and police are stopping by more often to try and keep them moving.

Andrew Reeves, who lives nearby, said while things got better for a bit, it is getting worse once again.

"Now I know the smell of heroin now, thanks to this place," said Reeves.