Opinion: Homeless people across Valley need solutions, not just pillows


The situation is dire for Maricopa County’s homeless population, weathering cold nights, brutally hot days and circumstances such as addiction and trauma.

A January 2020 Point in Time report found that on any given night, at least 7,419 people experience homelessness in Maricopa County. That same month, the report indicated that the percentage of people living on the street (51%) rose above the number living in shelters (49%) for the first time in our county’s history.

With such tragic statistics, many people feel powerless to assist homeless people, or struggle to pinpoint which solutions would provide a long-lasting remedy.

If we want to end homelessness in the Valley, I have learned how crucial it is to see each statistic not as a number, but as a person with a story and a unique set of needs.

That’s where Phoenix Rescue Mission can make an incredible difference.

The Mission has come far from its roots in 1952, pouring Kool-Aid and distributing bologna sandwiches in Phoenix to migrant workers seated on makeshift wooden-
plank benches. While these services no doubt were a force of positivity in the lives of the city’s disenfranchised, the organization has evolved with the city as the needs of people changed.

A meal and a pillow to rest one’s head upon at night make a difference in the present; but the factors that created the problem will rise with the person in the morning. A stomach will grow hungry again. An empty wallet will remain empty. Addiction, like a lingering pain, will tighten its grasp, and once more, a person will often find themselves without a place to call home.

The remedy to homelessness must be solutions-driven. We must identify the unique needs of each person and each community. If no two people are alike, why should an organization, even with the greatest of intentions, apply a one-size-fits-all approach to something as nuanced as poverty?

To Phoenix Rescue Mission, being solutions-driven means offering a “hand-up,” not a “handout,” to those who seek assistance. Our Hope Coach Mobile Street Outreach teams, quite literally, meet people where they are by driving around the Valley and distributing hygiene kits, life necessities and prayer.

Most importantly, people are provided with the knowledge that, should they desire assistance breaking through the obstacles that keep them stuck on the street, PRM is there to help them take the transformative steps to getting off the streets for good.

Our recovery programs are strategically crafted after analyzing the unique needs of our community. We ask ourselves what needs aren’t being met, and how can we ensure they stay met when we leave?

If a person makes the giant step of deciding they want assistance in addiction recovery, what life-controlling problems have put them into their situation?

What life skills can be applied so that our client can stay clean for the rest of their lives?

Similarly, our labor programs, like Glendale Works, acknowledge that a key factor in finding employment is learning how to be marketable and gaining the self-confidence to believe in one’s ability to change.

Glendale Works serves the city’s homeless by offering five-hour workdays compensated in cash. Participants in the program realize their self-worth, gaining the skills necessary to interview and kick-off their professional career, and, with the help of our case managers, eventually find employment and even housing.

Unique, personalized solutions are a crucial step to ending homelessness in the Valley and nationwide. People come in different shapes and sizes, molded by their history. That means we must offer more than just a pillow.

This work is only possible because of thousands of Arizonans who volunteer their time and support this work financially. As a local nonprofit, our community makes all the difference in the fight to end homelessness.

See how you can be part of the solution at phoenixrescuemission.org.

Editor’s note: Ken Brissa is CEO of Phoenix Rescue Mission.