Beginning next year, the Southwest Valley will have more tools in its kit to help combat the rising wave of homelessness, especially among families.
The West Valley Housing Assistance Center, operated by Valley nonprofit A New Leaf, is expected to open by the end of April 2023, and will include on-site, temporary housing and act as a hub for people seeking services beyond shelter.
It’s a much-needed investment for the rising number of unhoused people in West Valley cities, who often need to travel all the way to central Phoenix to access services.
The homeless counts they do every year through the county, they’re seeing that number of unsheltered people living on the streets, and a lot of them are individuals…What they don’t see are families.
Once officially open, the center can house up to seven families at a time in their own, private two-bedroom, 350-square-foot apartment. The center, located just north of Greenway Road on Grand Avenue, will also have the capacity to serve thousands of people each year with housing resources, counseling, employment assistance, court advocacy and more.
The organization anticipates the majority of families seeking temporary shelter at the center will be from single-parent households with children, especially domestic violence survivors.
Laura Bode, community engagement director at A New Leaf, said that in recent years, her group has noticed a growing need for services in the West Valley as populations increase, and more people in the region find themselves on the streets.
“As we’ve expanded across the Valley, we’ve seen a real need in the West Valley,” Bode said, adding that the population growth had risen by 60% in recent years, with an almost 140% increase in homelessness in the area.
But what the numbers often don’t reflect are families experiencing homelessness, Bode said.
“The homeless counts they do every year through the county, they’re seeing that number of unsheltered people living on the streets, and a lot of them are individuals,” Bode said. “What they don’t see are families.”
Parents will often hide the fact that they are living in their car, for example, fearful they could risk losing custody of their children, she explained.
Bode found that many homeless families in the West Valley would often decline to seek shelter in the East Valley, for instance, because their children are enrolled in schools on the west side.
It was for some of these reasons that the city of Surprise initially approached A New Leaf asking if they would be interested in providing services from the location that had sat empty for a number of years.
Keon Montgomery, director of real estate at A New Leaf, said the building was the idea of another nonprofit, Mustardseed Ministry, which envisioned offering services very similar to what A New Leaf plans to do come next spring.
Mustardseed fundraised to have the social service hall and two-story housing complex built, but the group was ultimately forced to abandon the project due to rising costs.
The building has been vacant since 2012, but Mustardseed continued to maintain the buildings as best they could in the interim.
One obstacle A New Leaf faced when they took over the property was water damage to the shelter roof that needed to be replaced, Montgomery said.
With partial funding from the city of Surprise, A New Leaf has been looking at other funding avenues to help cover the costs of getting the center off the ground. Right now, they’re looking to raise about $460,000.
A variety of community partners have pitched in to help.
Desert Garden United Church of Christ, of Sun City West, made a pledge of more than $13,000 to help furnish some of the apartments.
A New Leaf was also awarded a $55,000 grant from APS to be put toward the center.
Once up and running, the West Valley Housing Assistance Center will certainly be an asset to people experiencing homelessness on the Valley’s west side.
Unfortunately, however, it cannot outright prevent the rising rates of homelessness caused in large part by economic factors drawing already cash-strapped families to the brink of homelessness and worse.
“I think that the West Valley has seen an increase [in homelessness] just due to the fact that rents are so high,” Montgomery said.
Madeline Ackley Salazar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or found on Twitter @Mkayackley.