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Ortega: Tested, successful Scottsdale model ignored by Rep. Gress


With much fanfare, on Sept. 13, State Representative Matt Gress (Phoenix) choreographed a committee hearing at the Scottsdale Civic Library, which Gress characterized as an “Ongoing fight against Scottsdale’s taxpayer-funded homeless hotel plan.”

Rep Gress’ accusatory, rambling correspondence of July 5 had been answered point-by-point by city staff explaining our specific program. And since July, I personally reached out to Mr. Gress to brief him about the Scottsdale program, which has operated successfully for over a year. As reported in the Capital Times, I openly invited him to meet with me.

But Rep. Gress did not respond to  my voice message(s), or to numerous requests by my executive staff to set an appointment; and when he did take my call, he told me bluntly, “I will not meet with you.”

Instead, on Sept. 13., Mr. Gress finally did come to Scottsdale to present a reporter from San Francisco to rail about homeless populations “warehoused” in 80 hotels there. Mr. Gress also called on a Tucson non-profit “homeless hotel” operator and an out-of-state consultant to cite national statistics.

Sadly, Mr. Gress dwelled on San Francisco’s failed approaches to homelessness and tried to tag Scottsdale with those disasters. Mr. Gress failed to converse directly with me to get the true facts on our program. Instead, he chose to have a public forum to promote distortions. He disparages by inuendo Scottsdale’s renowned hospitality and tourism reputation, to appease his followers.

He disregarded our methodology, so I must set the record straight.

Scottsdale’s Bridge Housing Program has been operating successfully more than a year, leasing a total of 10 rooms at a local hotel to provide safe and stable temporary lodging for eligible participants: seniors over age 62 and families with minor children who have been displaced from their Scottsdale homes.

Each person is evaluated to ensure their needs and circumstances are a match for the program, and they receive ongoing support from professionals specializing in providing a full range of support and services for people in need.

Participants are required to work with a caseworker to become self-sufficient and secure stable housing. They are provided with assistance navigating through programs and services, searching for employment, applying for housing vouchers and searching and applying for affordable rental units.

Persons who are considered chronically homeless (a person has been homeless for more than a year), or repeatedly in and out of homelessness, with disabling conditions such as serious mental illness, substance use disorder, or physical disability are not eligible for Scottsdale’s Bridge Housing Program – those individuals are referred to programs elsewhere designed for their needs.

Last year, this program assisted 120 individuals in Scottsdale, a number the city expects to duplicate in 2023.The Scottsdale Bridge Housing Programs helps to prevent homelessness to ensure that being unsheltered is brief, rare and non-recurring. 

The hotel manager publicly stated that he has never had a problem with any participant, there have never been any calls to police and the participants keep to themselves and do not disrupt hotel operations.

Rep. Gress, as I stated, 70 percent of our program participants go on to stable housing. We are proud of this program. Rep. Quan Nuygen asked me directly, “How does Scottsdale measure success?” In addition to my response that the 50 Scottsdale children were spared the trauma of being homeless on the streets,  I invite Rep. Nuygen and Rep. Gress to listen to the City Council meeting on Sept. 19 to hear constituent testimony.  

Curiously, many of the speakers at the council meeting, who also submitted cards to testify at the Gress hearing, were not allocated time. City Council did listen and, acting responsibly, approved operating the Scottsdale program for another year.

There are 10,000 hotel rooms in Scottsdale. Utilizing a block of ten with rules of conduct, access to non-profit navigators and social worker contact is the tested, successful Scottsdale model.

Mr. Gress, bringing outsiders to foment fear and division was poor form on your part. City and state leaders should work together to listen to successful solutions. Subsequently, Rep. Gress has agreed to meet me Oct. 12 at City Hall to review the Scottsdale model of success based on dignity and respect.