As we move our city into the future, I am often asked about important topics related to new construction, future development, public safety, transportation, schools, water and many others. One question I have been asked is how is Peoria addressing the growing issue of homelessness?
This important issue is impacting communities across America, and it is due to a number of reasons including a series of decisions by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the opioid drug crisis. Although Peoria’s homeless counts are significantly lower than what we see across the nation and across our state, we have a plan in place to address this need and provide support, resources, and enforcement, as appropriate.
Peoria recently opened our Community Assistance Resource Center. Located in the heart of Old Town Peoria, this center is a safe place where individuals can connect with services and non-profit organizations that provide personalized referrals to meet a variety of needs including financial guidance, medical care, child development services, addiction resources, nutrition assistance and more.
In addition, Peoria has partnered with The Phoenix Rescue Mission, a local non-profit dedicated to ending hunger and homelessness in the Valley, and Central Arizona Shelter Services to provide emergency shelter for those in need. Peoria also has two police officers dedicated to homeless outreach. Even though our community doesn’t have a large homeless population, our police department sometimes receives calls from residents asking that panhandlers be relocated. Our police officers make regular contact with these individuals to offer services. During this outreach, officers have learned that many panhandlers are not homeless, and often choose to ask for money from our generous residents.
It’s important to note that in numerous decisions in the last two years, federal courts have ruled that individuals may not be criminalized for the action of panhandling or being homeless. Nonetheless, we are committed to working closely with our partners to encourage those in need to take advantage of safer conditions at shelter facilities.
Peoria commuters have probably seen new panhandling signs at key intersections throughout our city. These temporary signs are part of a regional effort and are intended to help residents understand that it’s okay to say no to panhandling, while directing generous residents to credible organizations. Information about those organizations can be found at www.givesmartaz.org.
This site is managed by the Healthy Giving Council, which is a fantastic regional organization dedicated to educating and connecting residents to direct, healthy, and lasting ways to give to those in need. By working closely with the homeless community, they have learned that unfortunately, one-off donations delivered to street corners, parks, or other locations provide short-lived relief and can delay or divert people from seeking services that can help end their homelessness.
Over the next few months, the Healthy Giving Council will be sharing this message on more than 76 billboards throughout Maricopa County.
In Peoria, we recognize that our community is only as strong as the people in it. Every day, we are working to ensure all residents have access to the resources and services they need to live their best lives. Peoria is proud to be a city guided by compassion; and with a comprehensive and regional effort to combat homelessness underway, Peoria will continue to do all that we can to be part of the solution.
Editor’s note: Ms. Carlat is the mayor of Peoria.