Chandler counts unsheltered people in the city

By Ken Sain

At around 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 20, a Chandler resident was reportedly upset that his dog wouldn’t stop barking because there was a homeless woman in his alley.

Police say 41-year-old James A. Taylor confronted the woman, Jessica Luz, and told her to leave. She declined. He went back to his house, retrieved a firearm, and then confronted Luz again, telling her to leave.

Once again she declined. Taylor later admitted to police that he shot her three times, twice while she was on the ground, because he was upset about his failed suicide attempt the day before.

Luz died and Taylor is in prison facing first-degree murder and possession of a gun by an outlaw owner.

The city’s community navigators, who directly care for the homeless, knew Luz.

“One of our homeless people was shot dead in an alley on Friday just for being in the alley,” said Quiana Thorvund, one of eight navigators who work directly with the homeless and try to get them all kinds of services.

Each year, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development commissions municipalities that receive its grants to conduct a census of their homeless population. This year’s point-in-time census was conducted on January 24th.

It wasn’t a good day to count unprotected people. It was 32 degrees when about 60 city employees and volunteers exited the Chandler Fire Administration Building just after 6 a.m

They were divided into just under two dozen teams, each assigned a grid to try to find people living on the streets. Each Navigator led a team because they know many of these people personally. They also know where they like to hang out and what signs to look out for.

There’s a lot of money at stake finding every homeless person in Chandler. HUD awards funds based in part on count. Leah Powell, the city’s director of neighborhood resources, said some of that money helps pay a portion of the salaries of at least six Navigators.

But one cold morning, the homeless were looking for a warm place to sleep, making them harder to find.

“As far as I know, many of them are in abandoned houses,” Thorvund said. “It’s just too cold. Some customers don’t tell us most of the time, but some of them will.”

They rarely reveal the location of the abandoned house. Powell said Navigators would do anything to help the homeless, but they would not allow them to break the law.

Chandler reports his numbers to the Maricopa Association of Governments, which will spend several months analyzing the data before releasing last week’s figures.

The numbers that MAG documents are the actual number, but it’s not necessarily the number that HUD uses to award money. According to Powell, HUD uses multiple streams of data, including how many customers the city has.

In the 2021/22 financial year there were 442 households. The city had a 99% success rate on positive exits, which means moving them to an emergency shelter or program. However, that number will go down, Powell said.

HUD requires a positive outcome within a few months. There is currently no time limit, which is why the success rate is so high.

Thorvund’s group found six unprotected people in about three hours of searching in a small part of town between downtown and the airport. She said most vulnerable people stay close to where they can get services or support. That means downtown.

They also stay close to bus routes as they don’t usually have transportation options. So there will hardly be any homeless people south of Germann Road.

Those not staying near a pantry or other support groups usually stay in an area where they have family or friends to help them.

MAG divides the homeless into two main categories, protected and vulnerable. The point-in-time count looks for the unprotected. The city always knows how many are accommodated.

There is only one homeless shelter in Chandler operated by a group of community churches. It’s called I-HELP. They accommodate about two dozen people at a time. The city is also working with some hotels to provide emergency shelter for the most vulnerable.

The emergency shelter waiting list is around six weeks.

“One kind of wonders about the word ’emergency,'” Powell said.

Each person placed there can only stay about 60 days and is checked daily by a navigator.

Families with small children are a priority. Another is anyone with an illness.

“We’re going to get people straight out of the ER,” Powell said. “This has happened to us several times. And we know that their chances of surviving on the street are lower because they come out with an illness. So that’s the kind of person we’re going to put in the hotel program.”

The last group preferred for emergency shelter are seniors.

Thorvund said the best thing about the point-in-time count is identifying homeless veterans who are being helped by specially trained navigators. The government is providing all possible resources to help them get back on their feet.

Thorvund said city workers get a variety of responses from the people they are trying to help.

One of the people counted on January 24 was new to her. She asked his name and she said he gave her a wrong one. He said he didn’t need or want any help.

Others are more willing to accept help. Navigators can help provide identification, replace a social security card, and assist in finding housing. It won’t be quick, but they can actually place some who stay with the program into affordable housing.

But some people don’t want the help.

“‘I heard about you navigators,'” Thorvund quoted one person she was trying to help. “You’re just trying to get us off the streets!”

“Yes, that would be the point,” she said.

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