With neighborhood support, Phoenix approves new west side shelter for homeless elderly – The Arizona Republic

A new shelter for homeless older adults will open in Phoenix next year after winning support from surrounding neighborhood groups.

In late September, Phoenix granted Central Arizona Shelter Services a use permit to operate a 130-room shelter out of the old Phoenix Inn near Northern Avenue and Interstate 17.

The Arizona Department of Housing will provide $7.5 million toward the purchase of the hotel, and the Phoenix City Council approved an additional $4 million that CASS will use to rehab the property and beautify the grounds.

But funding often is not the largest hurdle for homeless shelters. Neighborhood opposition has killed dozens of homeless shelter projects in metro Phoenix and across the country.

CASS cleared that hurdle, too, after spending almost a year with the surrounding neighborhoods building trust and comfort with the project. Several neighborhood leaders even testified in support of the project at the zoning hearing, saying it would improve the area.

“Today’s decision is really historic for getting support from neighborhoods to accept shelters in their neighborhoods,” said neighborhood leader Jeff Spellman.

Increase in senior homelessness

Older adults are the fastest-growing homeless population in the Phoenix area and across the country as housing prices climb and those on fixed incomes can’t keep up. Nationally, the epidemic is dubbed the “silver tsunami.”

Prior to the pandemic, people 55 and older took up almost 40% of the 500 shelter beds at the downtown CASS shelter.

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CASS CEO Lisa Glow has been advocating for a separate senior shelter for the past several years.

During the pandemic, she got to test out the idea through a partnership with Phoenix.

Phoenix provided CASS with CARES Act funding, allowing the organization to rent 65 rooms in a north Phoenix hotel, where it placed the most vulnerable older adults in private rooms with their own bathrooms. The organization later expanded the program with 20 additional rooms.

The temporary senior shelter, called “Project Haven,” saw higher rates of successful exits to permanent housing than CASS’s main downtown shelter, Glow said. Participants stayed an average of 60-120 nights before leaving for permanent housing.

“This is what we need to do. Get (seniors) out of the mass shelters and get them into more dignified spaces,” Glow said.

Phoenix and the Arizona Department of Housing provided additional pandemic relief funds to help CASS purchase the Phoenix Inn and make Project Haven permanent.

The new Project Haven will have 130 rooms and could serve up to 170 people ages 55 or older at one time if there are people who want to share a room. Otherwise, all participants will have their own rooms and bathrooms.

It will be a closed facility, meaning only residents who have been cleared to stay at Project Haven will be allowed, and there will be full-time security.

Glow said CASS hopes to open the facility by next summer.

She said she hopes Project Haven serves as a model to create more shelters across metro Phoenix. They should be small and built to address the needs of specific sub-populations of the homeless population, she said.

“One of the things gets me excited this is the first of the smaller, specialized shelters that we’re all talking about in the community,” Glow said.

Winning neighborhood support

Glow said gaining community support was essential to making Project Haven 2 work.

She said that when CASS began looking at the Phoenix Inn as a permanent shelter site, the organization invited neighborhood groups to tour the temporary Project Haven in north Phoenix.

CASS also entered into a “good neighbor agreement,” promising to clean up the area around the new shelter, provide 24/7 security and set up an advisory committee with neighborhood leaders to keep them informed about the shelter.

“We’re committed to being good neighbors, and that’s why we’ve spent so much time with the community and had their full support,” Glow said.

She said CASS also had hard data to support its belief that operating a shelter would improve safety in the area.

The Phoenix Inn has served as a temporary homeless shelter for the past year. Maricopa County rented the facility to house people experiencing homelessness who tested positive for COVID-19 or were symptomatic and awaiting test results.

The year Maricopa County operated the hotel as a shelter, there were 196 calls for service at the address and zero arrests.

The year prior, when the Phoenix Inn operated as a hotel, there were 871 calls for service and 89 arrests, Glow said.

Councilmember Betty Guardado, who represents the area, said CASS’s transparency helped the neighborhood get on board with the project and trust that it would benefit the area.

She said she hopes this project shows other council members — in Phoenix and in other cities — that new shelters can win community approval and should be pursued.

“I think there is a lot of appetite on the council to have a lot of the small, specialized facilities,” Guardado said.

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Sinclair Noe, who lives in one of the neighborhoods near the Phoenix Inn, said he and his neighbors are “extremely enthusiastic” about the new shelter and believe it will be a significant upgrade to the property.

“We would be proud and honored to have Project Haven 2 as a neighbor,” Noe said.

Coverage of housing insecurity on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Arizona Community Foundation.

Reach the reporter at jessica.boehm@gannett.com or 480-694-1823. Follow her on Twitter @jboehm_NEWS.

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