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Tempe's homeless outreach team expanding to help more people in need

The Valley city had one of the first homeless outreach programs in the country. Now, it and ASU are looking to help even more community members.

TEMPE, Ariz. — The city of Tempe this month has ramped up its efforts to address the growing number of people experiencing homelessness.

Tempe has added more homeless outreach specialists with dedicated teams in geographic zones and extended weekend coverage for more consistency and visibility throughout the city.

With new investments approved this year by the City Council, the city’s HOPE homeless outreach team is growing to 11 members from the current nine. In addition, the city has recently hired a new Homeless Solutions manager who brings 15 years of nonprofit experience assisting individuals who are homeless and those with disabilities.

"We split it into four different zones: north, east, west, and the downtown ASU zone," Jessica Wright explained. "Each zone has a dedicated outreach specialist team so there's two specialists for each zone doing outreach, ultimately trying to get them housed and off the streets."

This new approach for the HOPE team evenly distributes resources among high-demand areas and supports more frequent proactive engagements, said Wright, the city’s new Homeless Solutions Manager.  

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“Tempe was one of the first cities in the Valley to hire a homeless outreach specialist in 2016 and we’ve been investing steadily to expand the team as needs grow in our community,” said Mayor Corey Woods. “This new strategy will maximize our coverage and help us assist more unsheltered individuals and families, while also providing a consistent presence in neighborhoods, city parks, business areas and other parts of the city.”

Tempe is dedicating a two-person outreach team to the area around Arizona State University through a partnership with the university. ASU has committed $135,000 in funding for the two positions for fiscal year 2021-22.

ASU President Michael Crow said regional collaboration is vital.

“Arizona State University takes fundamental responsibility for the communities we serve and the challenge of homelessness is one that is shared throughout the region and which all public institutions must come together to address,” Crow said. “We believe the HOPE program provides constructive, engaged and meaningful support to our homeless neighbors and we want to be supportive in expanding it.” 

Tempe’s HOPE – Homeless Outreach Prevention Effort – team includes specialists who are certified Behavioral Health Technicians, with a depth of experience assisting individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness. Some on the team have lived experience, meaning they have been personally impacted by homelessness.

"We’ve been very successful in getting folks connected with resources and shelter," Wright said. "Last year alone over 75% of folks living in congregate shelters were able to move into their own housing program or successfully into housing so we're seeing it be effective."

At last count in 2020, about 400 people were unsheltered in Tempe. New data is expected to come out next week. 

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