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Shelter Skelter

Tucson's attempt to help the homeless drawing a crowd?


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Strange as it may seem, Tucson's "homeless problem" isn't a problem from the point of view of many "professional homeless." In fact, from the transients' point of view, Tucson is one of the better cities in the country to actually be homeless in because the Old Pueblo has some of the best--some say, national model--homeless programs. Even homeless pet owners can have their animals picked up and returned to their camp for free spay, neuter and immunization services. This "Homeless Disneyland" distinction has painted a bull's-eye on Tucson as a target for the nation's chronic, traveling homeless.

"The service system here does stand out," says Karin Uhlich, director of Primavera Services. " I think it's better coordinated than it is in most communities and I think there's more diversity of services, which I think is a real strength."

All the accolades are not exactly what local homeless advocates had in mind when they created the area's many innovative programs to help the hobos among us, but somebody had to do it. The problem is even without the influx of new wanderers, on any given night there are only enough shelter beds for half the area's 3,200 homeless, far above the nationwide average of 26 percent of unmet requests for shelter. The causes they cite include a lack of affordable housing, mental health care, substance abuse and welfare-program reform. Meanwhile, some say the city of Tucson seems to side with those who think the problem is worsening because we do too much.

That all may soon change. President Bush fired the first shot in the new war on poverty last summer, opening up increased funding to "faith-based" organizations. And in October, the City of Tucson ended its 17-year relationship with the United Way, reverting to making its $1.7 million funding decisions itself. What that means for Tucson's homeless services is debatable.

"It's really hard to say what the implications are at this early stage," says Ulrich, who notes Primavera gets only about 3 percent of its annual budget from United Way. "It's a concern in how is homelessness going to rate against other critical issues in the city."

But just before Thanksgiving this year, a local consortium of homeless service agencies received a record $4.5 million in annual federal funding, a much needed jolt for both services and shelters in the area.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors' task force on hunger and homelessness has issued a report each December since 1984. Last year's survey of 25 U.S. cities--including Phoenix--found that requests for emergency shelters increased by 15 percent, the highest since 1990 despite a booming economy. Fifty percent of those cities reported the time people remained homeless had also increased, and requests for assisted housing by low-income families jumped almost 70 percent. The startling conclusion was that 3.5 million people in the U.S. experience homelessness in the course of a year, with 1.3 million being children.

The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that 275,000 veterans go homeless on any given night in the U.S. And, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, VA services reach less than 10 percent of those homeless vets. A University of Arizona survey conducted among Tucson's homeless in 1998 reported that veterans make up 47 percent of this city's homeless men.

With the welfare-reform legislation passed in 1997, many states--including Arizona--are seeing the first wave of welfare recipients reach the law's five-year benefit limit and forced to drop out of the program permanently. The reform also caused the federal government to tighten guidelines for obtaining assistance for people with drug or alcohol-related disabilities, and so yet another group of soon-to-be-homeless may slip through the net.

Tucson's problem?

WHEN THE TUCSON CITY COUNCIL determined the Salvation Army ("Sally," as it's affectionately known) wasn't getting the job done and changed the way the Toole Avenue Homeless Center was run three years ago, it did so by requiring the clients to show ID and register for social services before they got fed. The center's numbers dropped from 300 to 125 per day, and instead of the homeless getting off the streets, many who choose not to be shelter-dwellers lumbered off into the surrounding community in search of food. In response, some 10 area churches began soup kitchen programs, only to be chastised by local residents for the influx of the "dirty tramps."

The real change came on May 1, 2001, when the Tucson City Council's ban on newspaper hawkers, flower vendors and panhandlers on city medians went into effect, essentially banning the working poor from scraping out a living at busy intersections. The city called it a safety concern and noted it was simply following suit with what other Arizona communities were doing. The clamor for the city to find replacement jobs before the ban went into effect went unheeded--with Mayor Bob Walkup and council members Fred Ronstadt, Shirley Scott and Carol West (the ban's sponsor) opposed to any delays. Of those 41 newspaper vendors out of work (200 workers if you factor in flower and other vendors), seven were receiving mental health treatment. The council members must have been grinding their teeth when, two weeks later, President George W. Bush announced his war on poverty.

And that's the rub: The city treated the working, yet homeless, hawkers like lepers, blaming private, non-profit foundations and Tucson Newspapers Inc. for not finding the hawkers new jobs. But the hawker ban actually came on the heels of a variety of mean-spirited ordinances passed by the city over the last few years aimed specifically at the homeless.

Uhlich, at Primavera, cites a litany of laws as examples of the "criminalization" of homelessness. According to a 1999 National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty report, Tucson is ranked as one of the nation's top five cities with the "meanest streets" after continually enacting restrictions on homeless people's use of public areas. This includes the shutdown of a homeless camp near Sentinel Peak, a 30-minute limit on sitting at bus stops and a recent attempt at privatizing sidewalks so business owners could harass the homeless off "their" property.

"Those kinds of status offenses do nothing to solve the problem," says Uhlich. "The community is not well served because they're very difficult to enforce, and if they were enforced people would land in jail, which is the most expensive public housing program I know."

Ironically, that same May morning the hawker ban went into effect, Tucson joined several dozen cities in 23 states to see the launch of a "homeless newspaper." City Life News is part of a larger, national movement under the umbrella of the National Association of North American Street Newspapers. While the first issue of the free paper was bankrolled with small grants from Casa Maria soup kitchen and Primavera Services, the goal of the paper is to be self-sufficient as it educates the public.

"This is not an easy task to do while being homeless," says 44-year-old homeless publisher Kevin Riel, who currently has no phone and works out of a briefcase. "The things I'm going through to start this paper are what the homeless go through every day of their lives just to survive."

IN 1998, UA SOCIOLOGY professor David Snow released a study on Tucson's homeless that compared social services with actual needs to find "what services are viewed by potential clients as necessary but currently unavailable" and to illuminate "gaps or holes in the local social service system."

Until a new study is begun in the spring of 2002, the conclusions from the three-year-old UA study will still be used for planning throughout the area's service sector.

What the Snow study found was a distinct relationship between homelessness and work: 60 percent of the homeless surveyed had worked full-time or day labor during the past month, and one-third said they were currently working. While basic needs such as clothing, food and shelter were perceived by the area's homeless as crucial, the study found that work was always listed as a top-three priority.

Many local agencies offer job training and referrals as a solution to homelessness. Primavera Works offers some 70 local businesses a job pool from their shelter that provides about 900 working homeless per year the support they need to stabilize financially and integrate back into the community. But the area's appetite for temp labor is yet another reason the homeless are coming to Tucson.

"People flock here because they believe that, during certain seasons, there's more work available here," notes Primavera's Uhlich. "What the community does not want to acknowledge is that transients are a domestic, migratory workforce. If they didn't come to Tucson every season, the Gem Show could not be pulled off. They're absolutely necessary for the construction industry here and the tourism industry here."

Again, Primavera Works' program was a national model when it was created in 1998. Now considered a success, Primavera's program boasts a 40 percent success rate in finding the homeless permanent jobs.

"It's hard to hear those same people labeled as useless transients that are sucking resources from the community, because nothing could be further from the truth," says Uhlich.

Except for Pima County's Jackson Employment Center, which gets its annual funding from the city, Pima County, HUD and United Way, these local job programs, like the shelters, are run by private, non-profit groups.

THE CITY OF TUCSON DOESN'T actually run or own any shelters, but it does control some transitional housing programs through its joint-Pima County "Bridges" program. While this program targets the need for affordable housing, most of the city's Community Services Department budget goes to local non-profits for counseling, daycare and transportation.

City programs targeting the homeless go through the Tucson Planning Council for the Homeless (TPCH), a cooperative of 35 local service agencies that oversees Operation Deep Freeze (the winter program) and the Summer Sun Drive (a move to collect and distribute supplies the homeless need in the scorching summer months).

For funding, TPCH relies on Tucson's Information and Referral Services to act as its agent. Once again, the TPCH coalition is considered a national model for such non-profit cooperation.

"They serve a very particular function in terms of addressing service-delivery gaps," says Uhlich. "I think it is a very effective network."

Federal moneys available to the city for the homeless are also funneled through the Planning Council. But the fed money must be matched locally--until now, through the United Way. The Community Services Department had contracted with United Way of Southern Arizona to plan for and allocate approximately $1.7 million in local funds that are dedicated to public services.

But after the local office of the United Way struggled internally with 18 recommendations from a task force set up to address concerns about the management, leadership, efficiency and credibility of the organization, the city council voted unanimously in October 2001 to break off the relationship. At issue is that United Way overstates the amount of money local agencies receive by hundreds of thousands of dollars and allows roughly $2 million from the city and other sources goes to out-of-area agencies. While homeless shelters in Tucson remain under-funded, the Tucson United Way actually funds shelters in Southern California.

"What is going to be different is how we request proposals for those funding sources, " says Cindy Abril, project coordinator at the Community Services Department and current chairperson of TPCH.

"We're going to consolidate all into one activity so when the money's on the table, it's basically all the money on the table at the same time and people will follow one application procedure."

Starting next year, the City of Tucson will divvy out money itself using an appointed council, rather than through several different funding processes. And TPCH has also made changes by hiring a full-time grant writer to search for new funding sources.

"We are concerned here because, first of all, the economy was cooling off anyway, and now we have the events of September 11 and the brouhaha with the United Way," says Lynn Ratener, director of community planning for the city's Information and Referral Services. "Now we have people saying they just gave their $300 to the firemen's fund in New York, so I'm afraid that things will be tighter for people at the bottom end of the economic latter."

The biggest chunk of money available to the cities, counties and state is in the form of several grants from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). While the shortage of shelter beds is a growing concern, most of the HUD pass-through funding is funneled into programs meant to stem the tide of homelessness.

The Washington-based Urban Institute released a book in June arguing strongly for shifting gears in the nation's approach to homelessness by going after the root causes, rather than develop services after people become homeless. Martha Burt, one of the authors of Helping America's Homeless: Emergency Shelter or Affordable Housing, says, "We know more now than we ever did about homelessness and how to reduce it. It's time to use that information to develop a new approach to eliminating it, one based on subsidized housing and supportive services."

Each year, the Tucson area receives a HUD grant, which is distributed among various local agencies. Last year it was nearly $3 million, but this year Tucson and Pima County groups received $4.536 million through HUD Continuum of Care grants, and an additional $372,000 in Emergency Shelter grants--part of a record $1 billion in this year's federal allocation for homeless programs. The grant was developed through TPCH.

"When we submit our funding proposals to HUD, we have to describe those gaps in service and propose projects that will fill those needs," says Abril, who complains there's "never enough money."

"If you increase the bed capacity, you're probably talking 30 to 40 beds a year, which is still not going to meet that need."

ACCORDING TO THE 1998 UA STUDY, of the 3,200 homeless on the streets in Tucson on any given day (closer to 4,500 for all of Pima county, according to current state data), over 800 are homeless families consisting primarily of women with children.

But to peg the homeless in any single category is useless. The UA report notes: "Given the variability in the demographic and lifestyle characteristics of Tucson's homeless population, it makes little sense, at least from a planning and service standpoint, to proceed or operate as if there is a 'typical' homeless person."

Nearly 40 percent of Tucson's homeless are women who, more often than not, have grabbed their kids and escaped an abusive spouse. According to the UA study, more "safety net" programs exist for women than for men. With women and children representing the fastest-growing population of the homeless community, these women can seek asylum at, among other places, Bethany House, Brewster Center for Victims of Family Violence, Casa de los Niños shelter for children, or the Tucson Shalom House.

Then there are the children who are on their own. The Children's Action Alliance estimates some 5,000 runaway or homeless kids pass through Arizona each year.

Tucson has an acute shortage of services for homeless teens, with some 500 teens living on the street and only 50 beds specifically earmarked for them. The complication here is those teens who don't consider themselves "homeless," but simply "home-free"--they want to be on the street rejecting the material confines of suburban life, or simply escaping a home life where they experienced abuse or rejection of their sexual orientation. According to Primavera, the fastest-growing population is 15- to 16-year-old girls.

For Tucson's homeless men searching for temporary shelter, it's a bit rougher. The choices are limited to Gospel Rescue Mission's 52-bed shelter; the Salvation Army's 91-bed Hospitality House, and Primavera's, 110-bed shelter.

For veterans, Tucson operates a VA Supported Housing (VASH) program, and one Tucson city judge opens her chamber once a month to help homeless veterans with their legal problems--the only program of its kind in the U.S.

But with the restrictions at each of the three main shelters--such as four nights in a 30-day period at the Mission--the typical shelter-dweller is only covered 21 nights a month throughout Tucson's shelter system. Those who receive Social Security checks of $500-$700 a month choose a cheap motel. The other roughly 1,500 are on the street.

"There are people who are still in the shelter system even though they are getting certain entitlement checks," notes Primavera's Uhlich. "People wonder whether these folks shouldn't be subject to stricter efforts to weed them out on our part."

Of the three primary men's shelters, Primavera's program has drawn high acclaim for being the Cadillac of men's shelters. Since its founding in 1983, the non-profit foundation has acquired four old motels or apartment buildings. Ask the homeless who have made a local career of "shelter hopping" and they'll tell you that the staff, food and facilities at both the Mission and "Sally" basically "suck." Interestingly, the UA study found that those staying at Primavera have slightly higher levels of education, with the opposite being true for those staying at the Gospel Rescue Mission. And those staying at Primavera were more likely to be working in the labor force than those at "Sally."

The biggest difference among shelters seems to be how the staff treat their male clients.

TUESDAY, 5 A.M., SOUTH TUCSON: The lights at the 11-bed Primavera men's shelter flicker on high above the concrete floor of one of the largest prefab metal buildings I've ever seen. The industrial-strength swamp coolers and slow rotating ceiling fans have kept the air surprisingly fresh all night considering the bunk-bed barrack conditions for more than a few guys who haven't seen a shower in weeks.

It's the start of another day, though the kitchen staff has been up since 4 a.m. preparing the 6 a.m. breakfast of scrambled eggs, coffee, OJ, bread, fruit and cereal. Though those on a temporary stay are required to vacate the building by 7 a.m., many choose to skip breakfast and sleep in until the last minute. Others head for the institutional showers before breakfast while still others are outside on the fenced-in patio grabbing a morning smoke.

At 7.a.m the first of three shelter vans begins loading those needing a ride to the Ronstadt Transit Center or to the Primavera Works office in search of a temporary or permanent job. It's all very orderly. Those who volunteered for the daily clean-up chores are given a reprieve and allowed to spend the day at the shelter. It's a good deal since lunch at the shelter can be as close to gourmet as any of these guys may ever see. The staff is firm, but conditionally respectful: Treat the all-male, live-in staff with respect, and they return the favor; be an asshole, and be prepared to be treated like one. Most clients choose the former.

Tuesday, 6 a.m., near Speedway and Main: A women shrilly yells "good-morninnnnng" as she climbs the flight of stairs of the Salvation Army's Hospitality House and flicks on the lights of the men's shelter. A few obscene oaths are uttered from the far end of the dorm, but nobody allows her to identify the origin for fear of being expelled from their seven-day stay. Most scream "good morninnnnnng" back to the woman, who is unaware--or doesn't care--she is being mocked.

The door leaving Sally's Hospitality House is operated by an electronic lock controlled by an ambivalent staff person behind bulletproof glass. Once out of the shelter at 7:30 a.m., we're on our own until the door opens again at 5 p.m.

A state problem comes home

THE ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF Commerce (ADC) estimates an average of 26,700 individuals statewide (excluding reservations) are homeless, with over half being white. That figure varies day to day and season to season, and can spike up to 50,000. Currently, Maricopa County has 45 percent--between 13,000 and 15,000--of the state's homeless, while Pima County has 17 percent. The state desperately needs more facilities, since the demand has increased dramatically. According to ADC's Five-Year (2000-2004) Consolidated Plan, "Arizona's shelters and transitional housing facilities are serving only 25 percent of the need." Statewide, the 6,800 emergency beds available per night jump another 800 temporary beds during the winter with the inclusion of short-term weather programs. The State of Housing in Arizona 2000 Report indicates a need for another 4,122 emergency shelter beds and 3,540 transitional housing units.

Tucson's population spike occurs in the winter, the opposite end of the meteorological spectrum from when Flagstaff sees a spike, But even the winter in Southern Arizona can hit freezing temperatures at night, triggering a local state of emergency known as Operation Deep Freeze, which houses those seeking help in churches once the shelters fill up. It's just one more of the established programs that draws the transients to Tucson. The program goes into effect when temps drop below 35 degrees--or 40 if it's raining--and virtually guarantees everyone shelter and a hot meal for the asking.

While the 15-year-old program is spearheaded by the Salvation Army, more than 80 local organizations and churches participate in putting people up. The annual Operation Deep Freeze kicked off this year on November 27 when over 125 homeless sought help from the cold.

But according to Primavera's Uhlich, this past year saw no change in numbers between seasons of area homeless. "Typically we see a decrease in demand over the summertime at our Relief and Referral Crisis Center, which falls from 100 per day in the winter to 60 per day in the summer," says Uhlich. "But this past summer the numbers did not drop at all, something I haven't seen in my nine years here."

For Tucson's 3,200 homeless, there is only about half that number of beds available on any given night, meaning on any given night there are some 1,500 people literally on the streets. According to TPCH, as of May there were 611 emergency shelter beds, 1,111 transitional housing beds and 345 permanent units set aside for homeless people with disabilities.

At Primavera, the adjacent VA hospital routinely sends medical clients to the shelter who are simply waiting for a scheduled procedure, but live out of town. The VA does not compensate the shelter, and some feel that bed space could better serve the truly homeless. But a bigger concern is the recently discharged people who hit the streets from various institutions and have nowhere to go. According to the state Department of Corrections, some 600 prisoners are released in Tucson alone each year, essentially homeless.

"We can't fix the problem as long as there's not enough affordable housing and a steady stream of people who are being released homeless from correctional institutions and the foster care system," complains Info and Referral's Ratener.

With this increasing discrepancy between beds and the homeless, the strain on privately run shelters has reached the breaking point. But expanding shelter capacity isn't going to happen under the current funding structure, at least not for Primavera.

Still, one relatively new player in homeless shelter services in Tucson is planning to do just that. Hope of Glory ministries is raising money on the grass-roots level to build a 32,000-square-foot, 100-bed full-service shelter.

"There isn't an existing building available that would be amenable to the city, to Rio Neuvo or the neighborhoods that would work for us, so we decided we would have to start from the ground up," says Betty Bitgood, chairman of Hope for Glory.

Bitgood says that although the facility should be near downtown where social services are located, they've been forced to skirt the entire Rio Nuevo area.

"They won't hear of it," says Bitgood.

Those dirty bums?

THE SUN-BAKED MEN, WOMEN and children who beg for spare change, rummage through trashcans and--until recently--display "will work for food" signs at city intersections are the homeless who can't get into, or refuse to enter, a shelter. The typical image of the homeless--the kinds of people the city fathers want kept out of sight in order to attract more glitzy business in a quest for high-tech "cluster" supremacy--are people in dirty clothes pushing overstuffed grocery carts and mumbling to themselves, preferring to drink and take drugs rather than find a job. But these are only the most anguished and downtrodden of the lot, who have fallen through the cracks of society.

The other unsavory homeless image is crime.

One homeless man was arrested at a westside homeless camp for stabbing to death another homeless man on the north side in June. Two other homeless men were beaten to death by a campmate in 1999, and another homeless man was shot to death by a 16-year-old who was robbing his camp. Even the University of Arizona has its problems. A homeless veteran was recently removed from the third floor of the UA library, where he had been sleeping. Yet another homeless man was found dead in a wash near the university campus last year. Police say that such cases are not investigated unless there has been obvious foul play.

According to homeless advocates, some 50 homeless died in Tucson in 2000. In fact, for the past decade Primavera and other organizations have held a memorial service for those who die in Tucson each year.

"The average age of death is 51 and homeless people are 20 times more likely to be victims of homicide," says Uhlich. "It's a brutal life."

Despite a lot of good intentions, many of Tucson's homeless actually prefer the street to a shelter stay because of rules against booze, drugs and even the free movement in and out of the shelter. Others feel they simply don't need the support.

According to the 1998 UA report, there are important differences among the homeless, according to how long they have been on the streets. Those with shorter street time, the report argues, "have not yet become anchored in the subculture or lifestyle of chronic homelessness."

"If people are homeless for several times or for over a year, what seems to happen is they adjust their frame of reference and redirect their efforts," says Uhlich. "It they camp out, then at least they have enough money for really good food and they decide it's really a better life than getting kicked out of their home every six months."

JOHN HAS BEEN LIVING ON THE street in Tucson since 1992. I've crossed paths with him periodically for the past four years in my neighborhood, which is part of his regular route: He's a professional Dumpster Diver. John collects scrap metal in the small trailer he pulls behind his mountain bike, what the UA study calls "shadow work." As a Dumpster Diver, he's found everything from a laptop computer to several ounces of pot, which he happily smoked. "People ask me why don't I get a job," he says. "I work three days a week and spend the rest of the time reading or working my laptop. What's the point? I have what I need."

Last time I saw him I asked if he ever thought of going into a shelter. "Why?" he asked. It seems he has everything he needs at his campsite, including access to water, electricity (he has a small TV and fan besides his laptop computer), and freedom to come and go and get high. Even a nearby fast-food joint lets him sit for hours with his computer plugged in to its power, as he works his mathematical programs. Despite popular misconceptions about the homeless, John is neither lazy nor uneducated.

There is an increasingly higher percentage of "nontraditional" homeless who have low-paying jobs but are trapped in the cycle of poverty that prevents them from maintaining permanent housing. Some shelters have extended-stay programs designed specifically to launch the "working homeless" back toward the financial stability that allows them to secure affordable, low-income housing.

Primavera's 90-day work program requires those working to set aside 75 percent of their weekly paychecks with a goal of saving $1,000 before they "graduate" from the shelter. Once they leave the program, their savings are returned in a lump sum and the clients are given a choice of finding a place on their own or moving into a low-cost transitional housing site Primavera operates.

In stark contrast, the long-term housing program at "Sally's" Hospitality House demands payment of 33 percent of the working homeless' paycheck in exchange for simply living and eating at the shelter. At Sally's other, long-term rehab facility, the organization takes 75 percent of the client's paycheck.

For those working poor who live paycheck-to-paycheck, extended-stay motels are the alternative answer, living in questionable surroundings on Oracle or Grant Road waiting for one of life's little turns of events to put their family on the street. Though not technically "homeless," there's no other way to describe them even though they don't factor into city or state statistics. Yet they're locked out of the rental market due to the nationwide affordable-housing crisis.

Home, sweet home

ACCORDING TO A JUNE REPORT from Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, 14 million Americans--200,000 in Arizona--spend more than half their income on housing, far above the standard 30-percent accepted ceiling. In Arizona, according to the state's newly formed Office of Housing Development, housing prices are increasing twice the rate of income.

"The availability of affordable housing in Tucson is notoriously low. In fact, we rank among the highest in the country for the lack of affordable housing and also very high for low wages," says Uhlich.

The City of Tucson's Affordable Housing Strategies Five-Year Plan (2000-2005) is equally cautious. The report notes that income has not kept pace with escalating housing costs for both buyers and renters.

According to a Tucson Community Services Department 2000 report, 28,000 households in Tucson earn 30 percent or less of the median family income of $13,550 for a family of four. These families, according to the report, are particularly vulnerable to homelessness due to welfare reform.

A study released in October by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that the average family income in the Tucson area is $23.35 per hour, more than $4,000 less than the average Arizona income. Renters in Tucson need to make at least $12.44 an hour--14 percent more than a year ago--to cover the area's average monthly rent of $647.

Some argue that the lack of affordable housing due to cutbacks in HUD's subsidized mortgages is the primary cause of the nation's epidemic homeless problem.

"When people lose their houses, or people can't get housing they can afford, that's where homelessness begins," says Info and Referral Services' Ratener.

"If they've been evicted three times because their check doesn't quite make it until the end of the month, they stop trying to find a place to live because that's a cycle they don't want to go through anymore," says Uhlich.

The National Housing Trust and Harvard/MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies reports that 218 families in Tucson had lost such housing as of 1998. With some 1.8 million tenants nationwide living in Section 8 housing projects, the potential for more homeless is staggering as fewer affordable housing projects are maintained or built.

Interestingly, HUD claims the rate of homelessness has remained constant over the past decade despite relative boom times in America. But the boom times have actually meant landlords drop Section 8 status, demand higher rents and still find themselves turning away people willing to pay.

"The one thing Tucson does is administer and run Section 8 housing assistance payment programs and the public housing program where the city owns over 1,500 public housing units scattered throughout Tucson," explains Abril.

The rent for those units is based on no more than 30 percent of the family's income.

According to the report, there are approximately 8,700 subsidized rental units in Tucson, and 343 non-profit-owned subsidized rental units set aside for special populations requiring support services. The city invests approximately $36 million per year in Assisted Rental Housing--housing for families with incomes at or below 80 percent of the area medium income.

According to the City of Tucson, the local HUD Section 8 program is serving about 4,000 families in the area, with another 2,000 families waiting.

Currently, the city invests about $1.5 million per year directly into the acquisition, development and management of units. Over the past three years, the city has invested in more than 3,300 housing units and the current goal is to add 1,000 households per year through 2005, a goal that "will result in assistance to a minimum of 17,000 low-income households," according to the Affordable Housing Strategies 2000 report.

But Tucson's five-year Emergency Housing Strategies to "provide temporary shelter to families and individuals in a crisis situation for up to 30 days" does not address the issues that put people on the street in the first place. The report states: "The City does not directly administer support services or emergency housing," but does invest "approximately $1 million per year in shelter and services for the homeless and coordinates solicitations for funding." Such "investment is targeted primarily towards services aimed at helping the homeless reach their greatest level of independence."

Starting next year, the newly formed Arizona housing office will jump into the affordable-housing issue by offering tax credits and low-interest financing to developers of affordable apartments. The state hopes to close the gap and make up for the inventory of low-income housing that has not been replaced because of HUD's reluctance to fund new projects while existing housing projects are converted to market-rate complexes.

They're all nuts!

OF ARIZONA'S 26,000 HOMELESS, close to 8,000 are considered seriously mentally ill or suffer a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse. Over all, substance abuse afflicts approximately 12,000 of the state's homeless.

Prop. 204--the Healthy Arizona initiative that passed in the November 2000 election--is slated to open the door to providing full healthcare insurance to some of the state's homeless population using Arizona's $3.2 billion share of the tobacco settlement. But the state legislature is still working out how to actually implement the program. According to the law, the state must fund the program even if it doesn't receive federal matching money.

Meanwhile, Tucson is still considered the eighth worst city in the nation in the percentage of people with no health insurance. Primavera's Uhlich says that in Tucson, there is "a huge number of people turned away from treatment and de-tox services" for lack of enough programs.

Mark was proud of the fact that he had lived in a makeshift camp for nearly two years. Getting around on a mountain bike, Mark knew every place in town he could get food handouts and grab a hot meal on any given night, such as Thursday night at a downtown church or at Casa Maria, which serves some 700 bag lunches per day.

Despite many attempts to get him into a shelter, all failed. He simply preferred his riverbed camp tucked out of sight near downtown. There were mental health issues with Mark, reflected in his money-management skills.

He received a monthly check of over $500 for disability. He also worked odd jobs for local artists who were sympathetic to his situation--as did several of the street people in Tucson I crossed paths with. While I knew others on such a tight budget that managed to find permanent, affordable (if not bleak) housing, Mark found reasons not to explore the option ("Does it include cable TV?" was always his first response).

One evening, I crossed his path at month's end, soon after his check arrived. He couldn't wait to show me the $90 police scanner he had just bought. He was concerned about knowing ahead of time if "they were coming to raid his camp."

War on poverty

WHEN PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH gave his poverty speech in May--the same month Tucson's hawker ban went into effect--he acknowledged the problems with welfare reform, noting, "We do not yet know what will happen to these men and women, or to their children." During that speech, Bush pitched his plan for a new "war on poverty" through the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. But that initiative has yet to pass the Senate, and brings no new funding to the table.

For the homeless who have experienced the sometimes uncompassionate treatment at faith-based shelters like the Mission or Sally, Bush's call to rally the "armies of compassion" isn't reassuring. Some faith-based shelters even make attending religious meetings mandatory.

"If people are really inspired by religious faith, they might feel like they're not well served by Primavera's approach because something might be missing for them," says Primavera's Uhlich. "On the other hand, we try to maintain a very open-door policy to anybody and everybody, including people who are deeply religious."

Tucson's Baptist-run Gospel Rescue Mission is one faith-based organization that hasn't come to the attention of the White House. It was at this shelter in November 2000 that Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe's invitation to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless was revoked. Kolbe had been serving for six terms--even after he had come out in 1996. The faith-based shelter cited "biblical principles" as the reason for turning away the only openly homosexual Republican congressman.

But the Gospel Mission quickly recanted and apologized to Kolbe, inviting him to this year's Thanksgiving feeding frenzy for some 1,500 homeless or near-homeless.

The Salvation Army was one of the first organizations to embrace the new White House faith-based incentive. It was a two-way street: The same week Bush announced his war on poverty, the White House honored Sally with National Salvation Army Week. This is the same faith-based Salvation Army that refused to open the doors to its more than 500 soup kitchens and shelters nationwide so the 2000 census could compile an accurate account of the country's homeless population. And nationally, the Salvation Army refuses to sign off on any official statement of non-discrimination.

IN TUCSON, THIS ALL MAY BE academic. The fear is that the city's new, 11-member funding panel will now be subject to intense lobbying for some $1.7 million a year in "human services" money each May from groups that have more political clout than those in the seemingly sleazy world of homeless services.

"Frankly, if it's through Primavera, great. If it's through anybody, we don't care," says Uhlich. "We just want to make sure people have housing, and food and the basics to survive and hopefully escape poverty."

At the same time the city takes over direct funding of such services, money will be tight. State lawmakers and the governor's office are in the midst of a debate over not only a 4-percent cut in state agency budgets to cities, but also making up an estimated two-year, $1.6 billion state budget deficit by cutting programs for the mentally ill, job training and homeless programs. The city and Pima County are expected to lose about $3 million each over the current and next fiscal year.

The 1998 UA report stresses a need to sensitize policy makers to two facts about the homeless: "There is a significant variability in the degree to which homeless persons are amenable to being helped off the streets; and there is corresponding variability in the extent to which the homeless in different categories will benefit from different kinds of service and intervention strategies."

The UA report concludes, "It is these differences that suggest that targeted, rather than universal or generalized policy interventions are likely to be more effective and cost efficient."

"It's a sad fact of our society that there are some people who will never attain self-sufficiency, and you can either say they are mentally ill, or they have substance abuse problems," says Ratener. "But other than that there are just some people who march to a different drummer. I wish that all people were equally adept at making their way through our complicated world, but it just ain't true."


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