TEMPE — When Tamika Broadnax became homeless in 2020, she relied on services from private and public organizations to sustain herself and her two daughters.
“I was buying two packs of ground beef and I had to put one back,” she said, reflecting on when she lost her job three years ago. “That’s when I knew it was real.”
Broadnax knew she could get an emergency food box from Tempe Community Action Agency’s food pantry at 2146 E. Apache Blvd. The trip turned into a long-standing relationship, which eventually led Broadnax to move her family into an apartment and land a job through a listing she found at Tempe Community Action.
“They reached out to me so much,” she said. “Not just me reaching out to them, but they responded back to me. Making sure I got the job, asking if I needed anything, helping me with my resume. They followed up every time.”
Broadnax is one of the 396 people who experienced homelessness and were “unsheltered” in Tempe in 2020. The number has held nearly constant the last few years, with 384 people identified as unsheltered in the Maricopa Association of Government Point-in-Time Homeless Count in 2021. The number rose to 406 in 2023.
“Homelessness is increasing in our region and nationally,” Tempe Mayor Corey Woods said. “It is critically important to get people into safe secure housing options for their health.”
Tempe officials have been proactive in coming up with solutions to help those who find themselves without shelter.
In the past few years, the city has introduced case management, connections to social services, a jobs program through Tempe Works, mental health resources and emergency and transitional shelter. A dashboard on the city’s website lets residents report homeless encampments in their neighborhood.
An outreach team uses encampment data to assess where unsheltered people are located and then find out what services they need.
While the local government provides many resources, Tempe also partners with non-profit agencies like Tempe Community Action Agency to gain a wider reach without using tax dollars.
“Working with our partners in the community is critically important,” said Tim Burch, community health and human services director for Tempe. “The need far outstrips the ability for any one organization to provide a solution.”
Tempe Community Action has multiple programs to prevent and combat homelessness. They include I-HELP, its Interfaith Homeless Emergency Lodging Program, where faith organizations offer emergency shelter for 40 people each night.
The nonprofit also offers emergency relief for rent, mortgage and utility payments for households experiencing a financial crisis as well as help finding a job and a lower-cost apartment.
“Homelessness is a community safety issue not just for the adults and individuals we serve, but for the neighborhoods that are seeing the effects of homelessness,” said Deborah Arteaga, chief executive officer of TCAA.
Arteaga said she is seeing more seniors seeking help.
Adults over 62 years old make up the second-largest group of the homeless population in Maricopa County, according to a MAG report.
Arteaga attributes this to a number of issues, from a lack of affordable housing options to low availability of livable-wage jobs. The median household income of Tempe in 2021 was almost 9% lower than the national average of $70,784, according to the Census Bureau. And median rent was 15% higher than the national average of $1,163 that year.
Tempe Community Action acknowledged Broadnax at a recent fundraising event, where she received the Barbara Norton Award for her perseverance through homelessness and her impact on the community.