A Better Way To Help the Homeless

Below is an article I was asked to write to help spread the word about this important topic. Though it was written specifically for people in and near Phoenix, Arizona, it could benefit readers in many locations. (I took the pictures at the Human Services Campus.)

Looking for a better way for your family or friends to help people experiencing homelessness?

The Healthy Giving Council of Phoenix would like to help you help the homeless. The council consists of neighborhood residents; currently and formerly homeless individuals; faith groups; nonprofit agencies; and officials from the City of Phoenix and Maricopa County.

They advise that when good-hearted people give food and other items directly to people who are homeless, they may not realize they are drawing them away from resources best equipped to truly assist them. Many receivers have serious needs not solved by well-intended handouts from passing cars and disconnected relationships.

Elder C. Dale Willis, Jr., Area Seventy whose assignment includes Public Affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Metro Phoenix area, recently offered a statement regarding this challenging situation. He said, “[T]he City of Phoenix and its charitable partners have asked the Church and others to help them spread the word, kindly asking caring people to direct their donations of time and material goods to a charity of their choice, instead of directly to the homeless on the streets…. Last year during the holidays, many generous people drove to downtown Phoenix on their own initiative and passed out food, clothing and gifts to the homeless. You might be surprised to know how much of it was dropped and left behind to spoil and pile up on the streets, creating major health, safety and garbage problems for the police and other responders.”

Did you know that Phoenix and Maricopa County collaborate with many social service agencies to provide quality environments where homeless individuals can meet together, be evaluated by professionals, and be sustainably assisted?

Numerous charitable agencies, including St. Vincent de Paul, Circle the City, and Lodestar Day Resource Center, are represented at The Human Services Campus in downtown Phoenix at 204 S. 12th Avenue.

The Campus welcomes almost 1,000 homeless clients each day for 20 different services, such as job training. St. Joseph the Worker, one onsite agency, helped 3,900 people find employment in 2017.

Assistance is given for substance addiction, mental health issues, and applying for benefits. Physical and dental healthcare are offered. Soon a 50-bed respite center will be added for those at the very end of their lives.

The Campus’s main shelter sleeps about 470 single individuals each night, and an overflow area can house an additional 250.

An onsite urban farm grows fresh fruit and vegetables that are then prepared in the commercial kitchen and served as part of many of the three meals provided every day to approximately 600 individuals.

“Just because you see people who are experiencing homelessness, it doesn’t mean they’re hungry,” says Sheila Harris, Campus Executive Director. “During the holidays, the Campus has an abundance of food and gifts. This past holiday season, the City of Phoenix Sanitation Department collected over 27.5 tons of refuge in the area surrounding the Campus.”

Though Phoenix cannot keep up with the paper, plastic, Styrofoam and unused food left on the streets after handouts are given, particularly on weekends, trash is managed on campus. Dietary restrictions of clients with diabetes and other concerns are also professionally handled.

“We have a goal to end homelessness,” states Marc Landry, Campus Head of Security. “From a client’s standpoint, we have everything they need. It’s a safe environment. The clients are safe; the volunteers are safe. Everybody wins.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that Steve Davis, Campus Director of Development, shares, “We have several states coming to visit us as a national model.” He adds, “We have a great working relationship with the Phoenix Police Department.”

The homeless are among the most vulnerable. They can only be assisted, however, if they choose to be. Meeting with professionals and addressing issues can be uncomfortable, and some will avoid it as long as they can get by on donations.

Any homeless person may receive food at the Campus welcome gate and a place to sleep in the overflow shelter. Across the street from campus, another partnering agency, Foothills Community Services-The Bridge, sets up in a parking lot and provides breakfast each Sunday. Any resulting mess is cleaned up by that group afterward.

The goal is for the homeless to register for a Campus I.D. card that is issued to clients, develop relationships of trust, and receive help that can remarkably change the trajectory of their lives.

The card not only grants them access onto campus, but to help from many social service agencies valley-wide. And they can receive other forms of identification that will allow them to rent an apartment and be hired for a job.

Thanks to the I.D. card, the homeless can even receive mail at the Campus post office. Wayne P., who volunteers there, witnesses the effectiveness of collaboration among all who want to be part of the solution. He says, “Through my volunteering, I see that is the best way to help those on the street.”

I happened to be on the Campus when the mail was delivered.

Volunteerism is common during the holidays, but help is particularly needed in the months that follow, and in the summer.

The best way to find volunteer opportunities and specific item donations presently needed by professional agencies helping the homeless around the valley, including several with representation at the Human Services Campus, is to log onto www.justserve.org. Agencies that post on JustServe are grateful for this website. They work face to face with those in need every day, and JustServe is the most efficient way to engage the public in serving along with them. All individuals and groups are invited to join in this rewarding, far-reaching collaboration.

Have a lovely day… and perhaps log onto www.justserve.org and find a way to help someone in need. I bet it will make your day even lovelier!