PHOENIX – After spending the night at a shelter, people experiencing homelessness usually have to pack their belongings the next morning and be out in just a few hours. But what if a shelter offered more? What if people woke up and didn’t have to worry about immediately going back onto the streets?
That’s what the 200 guests at a new shelter at 28th and Washington streets get to experience – without an end date looming.
When they wake up here, they can watch the morning news in the day room or pick up breakfast in the dining room. Security officers are stationed inside and patrol the grounds outside. Guests can meet with case workers, and pets are welcome. At the end of the day, guests can lock their possessions in an assigned storage trunk next to their bed and sleep in a stable, safe place.
The shelter, which opened May 13, is funded by a partnership between the city and Maricopa County, and operated by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Although it opened just in time for summer and was billed as a “heat-relief” shelter with joint funding through October, Phoenix plans to continue to operate year-round through 2024.
The shelter reached its 200-person capacity just five weeks after opening. Guests are referred by outreach teams and must be 18 or older.
Most shelters give beds to people experiencing homelessness for only one night. Guests at the new shelter have a dedicated bed that’s theirs for the duration of their stay, with no defined time limit. Case managers work with them at least once a week to find more permanent housing and other services for needs they may have, such as mental health care.
“What we’re really focused on is outcomes, and that means that we want people to complete the shelter program with a positive housing exit,” said Jennifer Morgan, the shelter’s program director.
A “positive housing exit” is one in which the shelter guest transitions to a permanent living situation, such as a housing facility, personal apartment or with family. Since opening in May, the shelter has had 10 positive housing exits.
“There’s an entire team of individuals here whose main focus is just on creating positive outcomes for people, and that’s not a number on a page,” Morgan said. “That’s not about who gets into an apartment and who doesn’t. It’s about that positive impact on people’s lives and restoring those connections with their loved ones, with society in general.”
The need for shelters is even more dire in the extreme heat of the summer, as heat-related illnesses cause hundreds of deaths every year in Maricopa County, “and a majority of those are unsheltered individuals,” Morgan said.
“The weather has an impact on what we’re able to provide and when we’re able to provide it,” Morgan said. “The need for a program like this one has existed, but the urgency was created by the heat.”
The shelter also takes COVID-19 pandemic precautions. Testing is required to enter the shelter, and guests are tested if they experience COVID symptoms. Those who test positive are quarantined and distanced from one another.