Scottsdale steps into regional framework to help those experiencing homelessness

What is and what is not OK is up for debate when Scottsdale motorists wait for green lights throughout The West’s Most Western Town. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

First there were signs, then came the placards to better explain the signs and now the City of Scottsdale may be developing a plan to address the underlying societal factors spurring panhandlers on municipal street corners.

“The cities are all coming together to have a conversation on how municipalities can work more collaboratively together,” said Scottsdale Human Services Director Greg Bestgen.

“Scottsdale is really just stepping into the game here: The East Valley regional homeless discussion group.”

Last June, the city introduced a series of signs throughout busy intersections alerting motorists to the idea it was OK to not give money to panhandlers.

A view of placards added after the first of several panhandling advisement signs began to sprout in public rights of way. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

But as population brims — Maricopa County was again recently named the fastest growing in the nation — real estate climbs in value and economic inequality continues to define the American Dream the panhandler has become a fact of life.

The U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights protect people from being criminally prosecuted due to their natural status or from expressing his or her First Amendment rights.

Following local voices encouraging city leaders to further explain where donations could be sent to local outreach organizations, officials then installed placards to offer that information.

Kelly Corsette, the city’s public affairs director, recalls the feedback.

“We actually added those after a resident suggested it on Facebook,” he said of comments offered by resident James Whiteley. “We thought, ‘why didn’t we think of that,’ so we whipped those up and had them added to the signs a couple of weeks ago.”

About 9%, or just over 21,000 people, live below the poverty line in Scottsdale, which is defined as a gross annual income less than $21,954 for a family of four, according to the latest Census figures.

As of 2015, the population of Scottsdale is estimated at 234,495 — which has grown 7,577 since 2010, Census figures show. In 2010 roughly 8%, or 18,759 people, of the population lived below the federal poverty line.

Mr. Bestgen, who is serving as liaison to the burgeoning East Valley municipal managers homelessness working group, says the panhandling signs are a first step toward a holistic approach to managing the root of the issue.

“Overall feedback on the signs themselves have been, I can say number-wise, have been supportive. It is all anecdotal of course,” he said.

“I have talked to about a dozen residents who appreciate the signs and the message we are sending. Feedback from the community, for me, and my office has been relatively positive feedback to combat what appears to be a growing problem.”

— Greg Bestgen, Scottsdale Human Services director

Mr. Bestgen says the East Valley working group meets in participating municipalities including Tempe, Gilbert, Chandler, Mesa and Scottsdale.

“I do think there is a lot of potential for the group to come and understanding to find a way to combine our resources and it may not even be something that is occurring within our respective borders,” he said of the working dynamic. “I think there can be a powerful cohesive effort instead of each of us working win our silos.”

At 2 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14, the Tempe Transportation Building, 200 E. 5th St., is hosting the East Valley municipal working group where Mr. Bestgen says new efforts are being explored.

“The way you stabilize families is housing,” he said of a growing consensus surrounding outreach strategies. “Really, I think the more that those of us in the East Valley can somehow coordinate our efforts to develop a really good assessment and diversion intake program — that is where we are all going to find a real impact.”

(File photo)

A moral obligation to betterment

Scottsdale Councilwoman Virgnia Korte says she receives minimal resident feedback regarding the recently-sprouted panhandling signs.

“Have I noticed a difference at some of the impacted intersections? Yes,” she said. “I was at Frank Loyd Wright intersection the other day and there were no panhandlers, but I believe there are real mixed emotions on this program but people do want to help.”

Ms. Korte points out signs are a first step to addressing the factors creating scenarios where people may find themselves experiencing homelessness.

Virginia Korte

“Homelessness and mental illness are not going to go away because we put signs up,” she said. “I believe this issue is just going to continue to grow and I believe the city of Scottsdale has an obligation to our citizens and a moral obligation to start talking about potential programs and ways to work with this population.”

Scottsdale Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield echoes a similar sentiment.

“I haven’t heard from anybody about them actually,” she said. “The only thing I have heard is from the city itself on how can we better interact and how can we help these people. I have been in a couple of meetings on what are some of the alternative approaches — No decisions have been made.”

For Ms. Littlefield, the issue revolves around public safety.

Kathy Littlefield

“From my point of view it is mainly a safety issue. It is dangerous to be standing out there on the street corner,” she said. “We hope to find some real solutions for everyone.”

The regional approach is picking up steam it appears as last month the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approved the allocation of $2 million in federal and county dollars to fund proven programs and initiatives helping to reduce and help the people who are experiencing homelessness.

Major countywide initiatives now funded include:

  • Hand-in-Hand, a county collaboration that rapidly connects justice-involved individuals experiencing homelessness with supportive housing, physical/mental health, and navigation services while in jail and coordination of community services upon release.
  • Diversion strategies with the Human Services Campus Coordinated Entry, to quickly resolve homelessness by helping individuals throughout Maricopa County experiencing a housing crisis to identify immediate alternate housing that is safe and appropriate.
  • A new workforce development coordinator position to assist the unique needs of recently housed individuals who must obtain and maintain employment to keep from becoming homeless again.

Last month, the Board of Supervisors approved an East Valley resolution authorizing data sharing and collaboration on the issue of homelessness between Maricopa County and the cities of Apache Junction, Chandler, Mesa, Scottsdale, and Tempe; the Town of Gilbert; and the Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care Governing Board.

Furthermore, the Maricopa County fiscal year 2020 budget includes money to support housing and shelter partnerships that provide rapid rehousing, essential services, and emergency shelter to those experiencing homelessness. They are:

  • Native American Connections will provide housing, shelter, and navigation services for youth;
  • Community Bridges will provide navigation services to justice-involved homeless individuals and rapid rehousing to individuals in both the East and West Valley;
  • AZCEND will provide rapid rehousing to individuals in the East Valley;
  • A New Leaf will provide shelter to individuals and families in the East and West Valley;
  • Lutheran Social Services will provide shelter services in the East and West Valley; and
  • Central Arizona Shelter Services will provide shelter to single adults at the Human Services Campus.

County officials report the Housing and Community Development Division is overseeing these contracts and initiatives.

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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