When our community has a problem or issue, I always said that we “come together, roll up our sleeves and get to work to deal with this situation at hand.” This was the case in 2015, with the Veinte de Agosto Park situation. The Mayor and Council listened and took action, dealing with the concerns raised by the downtown businesses and the homeless community.
In October 2015, I chaired the first meeting of the Tucson Homeless Coalition: a group of government officials, business owners, faith-based organizations, service providers and the homeless community.
The meetings of the Homeless Coalition showed how complex the issue was and its impact on all of our citizens. In the two-plus years since starting those meetings, our community has seen huge gains in collaboration and a shift toward unique solutions, one of which was the Tucson Homeless Work Program.
I developed the Homeless Work Program, based upon the Albuquerque program called “There’s a Better Way.” I held 30 meetings with community stakeholders to develop this collaborative effort so it was not just another government program. The Tucson Homeless Work Program offers a unique way to engage those experiencing homelessness, helping them navigate through the array of social services our community has to offer while beautifying our city and county at the same time.
The program has just completed its first year and has been called a success. More than 290 people have participated, out of which 40 percent entered permanent housing, 10 percent entered behavioral health services, 28 percent entered employment services and 14 percent gained long-term employment. A total of 115 sites were cleaned, as well as 73 miles of roadway cleaned and 67,230 pounds of trash cleared.
The Tucson Homeless Work Program owes its success to its partners: Old Pueblo Community Services, for overseeing the program; Assurance Health and Wellness, for providing transportation; Pima County, for providing locations for clean up; the City of Tucson, for providing tools and locations for cleanup; El Rio Community Health Center, for doing health screenings; Caridad Community Kitchen, for providing meals; and St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, for providing showers and clothes to the participants.
One of the keys for success was Cenpatico Integrated Care, working through Catholic Community Services, providing the funding for the staff person, DeAnna Barber, who has been the navigator for the Tucson Homeless Work Program, getting the people into the services needed. I want to thank Cenpatico — specifically Greg Taylor and former Tucson council member and Cenpatico Housing Director Karin Uhlich — for its support.
The Tucson Homeless Work Program was initially co-founded by the City of Tucson and Pima County. When the program launched, Humberto Lopez of the HSL Foundation matched the city and county funding of $50,000 for the program. Walmart, Southwest Gas, Tucson Medical Center and Cox Communications also made donations to help sustain the Tucson Homeless Work Program. More partners have since joined the effort and the program expanded to a third day, with the women from Sister Jose’s Women’s Center working at the Pima Animal Control Center.
When there is a problem, our community comes together and works to solve it.
The Tucson Homeless Work Program, recently honored at the Metropolitan Pima Alliance Common Ground Awards, is the example of this and it will continue to work for a better Tucson.
You can make a donation to the Tucson Homeless Work Program by going online to: www.helptucson.org/help_tucson/support/donate.php. Put Tucson Homeless Work Program in the comments section.