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Phoenix mayor seeks backing for study to tackle homelessness

PHOENIX — Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego’s fellow City Council members unanimously agreed Wednesday to back her idea for a comprehensive study of what she says is a crisis of homelessness in the nation’s fifth-largest city.

Under the measure, city staff has 90 days to hold community meetings and gather ideas for a regional response to surging homelessness and a lack of affordable housing in the area.

“Homelessness is not a new issue, but we have the power to address this problem head on,” Gallego said. “This is not a problem that can be solved by one city or one neighborhood. We are sending a clear signal to other communities that we are doing the hard work and they should, too.”

Phoenix is the latest U.S. city to look for answers to ensure sufficient shelter for people without permanent homes. The mayor Tuesday announced her idea for the study, saying more money and longer term solutions were needed.

Gallego said she wants to add $3 million to the $20 million the city already budgets annually on homelessness and a lack of affordable housing but said other cities, Maricopa County, of which Phoenix is a part, and the state should provide more help.

The vote approving her plan came after Councilman Michael Nowakowski asked that Gallego’s separate proposal to nearly double the number of beds at the massive Central Arizona Shelter Services facility not be part of the study.

Gallego said Tuesday because she considers homelessness an emergency she will consider a request to add as many as 500 beds to the 470 that already exist at the shelter amid a hive of agencies where hundreds of people regularly congregate downtown.

Nowakowski said that idea needed more study and community input, but he backed Gallego’s suggestion of a scattering of smaller shelters around the greater Phoenix area.

The Maricopa County Association of Governments said a one night count in early 2019 found some 6,600 people in metro Phoenix were homeless.

Councilman Jim Waring applauded Gallego for bringing up the problem, calling homelessness an important issue requiring attention. He asked that the study also look at the problem of homeless encampments on state trust lands and in city parks.

Councilman Carlos Garcia said the study should look at “not only the people living in public, but also the communities affected.” Councilman Sal DiCiccio called homelessness the “No. 1 issue” affecting Phoenix.

When she announced her idea Tuesday, Gallego said she also hopes to promote construction of more affordable housing in the city as apartment rents continue to rise and salaries fail to keep up.

Rents in Phoenix are up 3.5% from last year, representing the No. 4 growth rate among the nation’s largest cities, according to a report this week by apartmentlist.com, one of several commercial companies that track real estate data.

Apartmentlist.com said rents in Phoenix have grown by 21.2%, since 2014, outpacing the national average of 11.1%. It said median rent for a two bedroom apartment in the city is currently $1,103, slightly below the national average of $1,194.

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