Category Archives: Human Services

Citizens for Phoenix coalition offers proposal to deal with city budget crisis

In early February, the Phoenix City Manager proposed $140 million in budget cuts to the Mayor and City Council.  In response, a nascent coalition of neighborhood groups and non-profit organizations began meeting to research and draft their own budget proposal to maintain public safety while preserving essential services that Phoenix residents require for a reasonable quality of life.  Here two representatives of the Citizens for Phoenix coalition, Paul Barnes and Ann Malone, offer their views to City Council on February 11.  Councilman Michael Johnson offers his impressions of the coalition’s effort to date.

Paul Barnes of the Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Phoenix, explains the unifying philosophy of Citizens for Phoenix in dealing with the current budget crisis in Phoenix.

Ann Malone, president of Require the Prior, speaks to the Phoenix City Council about the proposed food tax, the importance of public safety, and the need to maintain city services for the vulnerable in our community.

Phoenix Councilman Michael Johnson expresses his thanks to and support of the Citizens for Phoenix coalition.

Phoenix residents show support and opposition to 2% food tax

[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Drowning out the voices of a handful of anti-tax protesters, hundreds of Phoenix residents and employees rallied Wednesday in support of the food tax, saying it was critical to save police, fire and other city services.  “As council members, you have a responsibility to help us get through these tough times,” said Phoenix firefighter Greg Morales.  “But as citizens we have a responsibility to do our part.  I believe this can be done by supporting an emergency food tax.”

About 400 people attended Wednesday’s public hearing at Carl Hayden High School.  It was the first of 15 that will be held this month to gather citizen input on the food tax and proposed budget cuts.

Last week, City Council members adopted a 2 percent tax on milk, bread, vegetables and other grocery items. The action came with little notice and just days after city leaders learned they would have to cut $140 million in services and programs to balance the general-fund budget.  The 2-cent-per-dollar food tax, which takes effect April 1, would generate $62.5 million through June 2011.  The extra revenue could prevent hundreds of job cuts and the halt the closures of senior centers, three libraries and dozens of community and youth-recreation centers.  About $100 million in service cuts would still be needed.  The council will vote on a revised budget on March 2 and the cuts will take effect in April.

Advocates from every segment of the community voiced support for their programs and services, from public transit to parks and recreation.  More than a dozen teens urged the council not to cut funding to the Police Department’s Explorer Program.  And about 50 equestrian riders, clearly visible in their cowboy hats, told officials they were willing to help raise money to keep the Arizona Horse Lovers Park operating.  “Horse Lovers park is our home, said Ross Libonati, president of the Scottsdale Saddle Club, which uses the park.  “We’re not here begging you to keep the park open.  We are begging you to let us keep the park open.”

But not all were happy with the food tax.  Rudy Pena, 57 and a Carl Hayden graduate, said the city needs to learn how to spend within its means.  Tapping into the anti-tax populism sweeping across the country, Pena compared Phoenix to the British government before the American Revolution.  “The city of Phoenix is not the British Army or the King of England,” he said, “but they are trying to impose a 2 percent tax on our food.”

For a list of proposed budget cuts and public hearings, visit http://phoenix.gov/budget/.

Phoenix steps up efforts for accurate census count

[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — The sputtering economy, spike in home foreclosures, and crackdown on undocumented immigrants could pose significant hurdles for officials working to get an accurate count of Phoenix residents for the 2010 census.  At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and state funding, disbursed to cities based on official decennial population figures.  “There are a lot of concerns that we have,” said Tammy Perkins, who is coordinating Phoenix’s census efforts.  “Every person we miss costs the city $400 a year.  If we miss a family of four, that’s $1,600 a year for 10 years.”

Census figures released this year revealed that the number of immigrants living in Arizona in 2008 had fallen by about 60,000, to 932,518, likely a result of the economic recession and construction slowdown.  Meanwhile, 60 percent of Valley home sales last month involved foreclosures, making it harder to track former homeowners who are now staying with friends, in hotels or living on the streets.

Hispanic leaders have said that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s raids and crime sweeps have forced some immigrants to move out of state or back to their home country, while fostering a distrust of government among those who’ve stayed.  “There is a lot of fear in the Hispanic community.  I think we will have a really hard time getting Hispanics to open the doors and return their census forms,” said the Rev. Eve Nunez, a community leader who is heading a Phoenix census committee focused on the faith-based community.  “We are trying to dispel that fear by telling them how much this will mean to their community.”  [Note: Read the full article at Phoenix steps up efforts for accurate census count.]

Coalition raises community awareness of metro Phoenix homelessness

[Source: Sadie Jo Smokey, Arizona Republic] — They’ll walk.  They’ll share a meal.  And hopefully, they’ll challenge the preconceived notions and myths about people who are experiencing homelessness.  This week, a coalition of 11 service providers, faith-based organizations, and non-profits which make up the Homelessness Awareness Coalition, will do their part to raise knowledge on the complex issue.  Their lofty goal, to end homelessness in Maricopa County.

According to Brian Spicker of Valley of the Sun United Way, about 8,000 individuals experience homelessness each day in Maricopa County and 14 percent of Arizona’s population lives in poverty.  More and more families and individuals are turning to Valley providers for assistance.  Lack of financial resources, eviction and job loss are the three most common reasons given by persons entering shelters.  “Homelessness impacts diverse people,” Spicker said.  “It’s not just a Phoenix issue.  It’s a Valley-wide issue.  At our last Homeless Connect, 25 percent of attendees were newly homeless.” [Note: Read the full article at Coalition raises community awareness of metro Phoenix homelessness.]

ASU students organize panel on Phoenix homelessness

[Source: Rachel Jimenez, Arizona State Press] — The ASU Wells Fargo Student Center held a homelessness panel at the Downtown campus Tuesday to discuss the myths and misconceptions of homelessness.  Creative writing senior Eichelle Armstrong had the idea for the panel and put it together.  “When I was a freshman I lived [in] downtown [Phoenix] and had a friend who was deathly afraid of the homeless,” she said.  Because of this, Armstrong decided to create a discussion where students can learn the realities of homelessness.

The panel consisted of five experts and they spoke to eight participating students.  Panelist Terry Araman, who works for the Lodestar Day Resource Center, said officials from Maricopa County conduct a study about the homeless population annually.

The Maricopa Association of Governments study found a 20 percent increase in homeless people between January 2008 and January 2009.  There were about 2,918 homeless people in Maricopa County as of January 2009.  However, that number doesn’t include people living in shelters across the Valley.  Numbers aren’t yet available for 2009, according to the study, but there were 4,793 people living in shelters in 2008.

The study reports that there are 280 homeless people under the age of 18, an increase of 280 percent since 2008.  The number of homeless adults increased 14 percent to 2,698; and the number of homeless families increased 248 percent, to 37.

Through present economic hardships, many individuals and families have been evicted or have lost their jobs or mortgages, Araman said.  “We’ve been seeing a lot of what we call the ‘new homeless,’” he said.  [Note: Read the full article at ASU students organize panel on Phoenix homelessness.]

Phoenix seeks residents’ input on General Plan revision

[Michael Clancy, Arizona Republic] — Meetings are taking place citywide to ask citizens what they like about Phoenix, and what they want to change.  The gatherings are the first step in a three-year process aimed at revising the Phoenix General Plan, a document of nearly 500 pages that governs growth and development in the city.  “If you want to have a say in what happens — highways vs. transit, sprawl vs. infill, pollution, parks and open space — then you need to get involved,” said Jim McPherson, a civic activist who has volunteered in the effort.

Carol Johnson, a city planner who is managing the process, said meetings will take place over the rest of the year in connection with local village planning committee meetings.  “We really need to hear from the community about what they want Phoenix to be, and how we can get there,” she said.  “That will define the scope for what we do next.”

Johnson described the general plan as the city’s “long-term guide for the physical manifestation of the city.”  She said development of the revised plan would entail a period of “visioning,” in which ideas and goals are developed, followed by a period of drafting policies and measures, and determining implementation.

The plan could include updated sustainability measures, improved business-development plans, revised historical features, and new benchmarks for infrastructure repairs and upgrades.  In meetings so far, “there is a lot of interest in climate change and the urban heat island,” Johnson said.  “Some people have said the village cores are not working. Others want to see land use and transportation planned in tandem.” She said the plan ultimately would be organized around four subject areas: community, economy, environment and infrastructure.

Catrina Knoebl, a downtown activist, said she expects the process to be worthwhile for the public as well as the city.  “I have found the city absolutely listens to citizens,” she said. “They want to hear what residents have to say.  They are actively reaching out.”  Knoebl said she finds the timing to be advantageous because “we have more people than ever before who are knowledgeable and engaged.”

McPherson agreed the timing is right.  “We have a little bit of breathing room now,” he said.  “With the slowdown caused by the economy, we have some time to do some thinking.” [Note: Read the full article at Phoenix seeks residents’ input on General Plan revision.]

Water, apples feed bodies and souls of Phoenix homeless

[Source: Susan Casper, ABC News 15] — Even before sunrise Friday morning, volunteers started loading pick-up trucks with cases of bottled water and boxes of red apples.  Organizers and volunteers met outside the US Bank building in downtown Phoenix, which served as ground zero for the 2009 AZ Water Drive.  The goal of the drive is reach more than one thousand people.  “So I had a plan,” said organizer Dorsha Hale.  “My plan was to drive up and down the streets of downtown Phoenix and give as many homeless people I could find a cool bottle of water.”

Hale told ABC15 she organized the first drive in July 2005 after a relentless and lethal blanket of heat settled on much of the Southwest, leaving 20 people dead in Phoenix alone.  “The lack of preparation for the homeless was obvious by those sweltering on the sidewalks,” said Hale.  The community responded and this year volunteers spent their lunch hour handing out nearly 700 free bottles of water in downtown Phoenix.  [Note: Read the full article at Water, apples feed bodies and souls of Phoenix homeless.]

Phoenix homeless seek refuge from heat

[Source: Colton Shone, KTAR Radio] — The warm temperatures are making it extra tough on the Valley’s homeless population.  At the Human Services campus in downtown Phoenix, many people are seeking shelter, but some have to be turned away.  “There’s not endless resources for this sort of thing, especially now that we have a 60 percent increase in the homeless population,” director Arlene Pfeiff-Maraj said.

Pfeiff-Maraj says the shelter expects about 1,000 people Thursday night but can only hold 450.  Another 300 will stay in a nearby warehouse, and the rest will sleep in the parking lot.  [Note: Read full article at Phoenix homeless seek refuge from heat]

Arizona governor releases budget proposal

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has released her FY 2010 budget proposal.  Citing current assessments that show the state’s FY 2010 General Fund budget deficit to be growing and reaching upwards of $4 billion, coupled with the June 30th constitutionally mandated deadline for a balanced budget, Governor Brewer renewed her call for a “truly balanced budget.”

“Arizona’s growing fiscal crisis stands to inflict a devastating impact on our state,” Governor Brewer stated.  “We have a non-negotiable duty to adopt a budget that simultaneously addresses our current fiscal situation, our future economy, based on realistic projections, the immediate needs of our least fortunate adults and children during this grave economic time, and our stewardship role on behalf of future generations of Arizonans.”  To view Governor Brewer’s FY 2010 budget proposal, click here.

Sustainable Home Ownership Coalition formed by Phoenix non-profits

[Source: Teresa Brice, Local Initiatives Service Corp.] — Anticipating the magnitude of the bank-owned inventory in Arizona, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) convened a coalition of 14 community development corporations to form the Sustainable Home Ownership (SHO) coalition in 2008 in an effort to revitalize the local communities.  The result is a long-term strategy to increase the capacity of the non-profit housing sector by creating a single-source solution to match qualified buyers with available properties.

SHO provides one single point of contact for jurisdictions, real estate owned (REO) servicers and buyers.  Each of the 14 participating community development corporations brings a unique strength to the initiative, including: housing counseling, pre-purchase education, property rehabilitation, lending services, down payment assistance, and geographic reach.

The SHO initiative will provide ownership opportunities for buyers that are affordable at purchase and sustainable over the long-term which is “key to responsible communities.” Click here for information on becoming a new homeowner or to sign up for e-mail alerts.