The Arizona Housing Fund offers a new, unique solution
By Syerra Rodriguez
Here in the Grand Canyon State, where the sun seems to shine nearly every day of the year, thousands of people are left in the sweltering heat due to homelessness every year. Maricopa County had upwards of 9,000 citizens without housing as of last year. Waitlists for Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) can be up to six years, leaving some of those people with nowhere to seek asylum.
Homelessness is no new epidemic in Arizona, but it is one that continues to grow. Last year alone, 1,776 people were accounted for as being chronically homeless, according to Arizona’s Department of Security 2018 Homelessness Report. Congregations of tents and shopping carts can be found in nearly all cities.
However, the solutions have become tired and are leaving homelessness on the increase instead of decline. While it may never be possible to solve the problem completely, the Arizona Housing Fund (AZHF) is calling on the community to take matters into its own hands and band together to help fellow community members find shelter.
The Arizona Housing Fund is a collaborative partnership that allows business owners, realtors, individuals, and anyone willing to donate money for the building of new PSH units that will be affordable and maintainable for those in need.
How it will work
Howard Epstein, president of the Arizona Housing Inc., devised the idea of taking homelessness to the private sector when he realized that previous solutions for change were not working. Having worked for Bank of America in its Real Estate Assets division for more than 25 years, Epstein hatched the idea to combine escrow with donations.
Every month, more than 1,000 people close escrow in Maricopa County. The idea is that each time someone buys or sells a house, they can voluntarily opt in to donate. The money will then be placed into the Arizona Housing Fund, and builders of PSH can submit grants they wish to be funded to the advisory committee.
“The whole idea and the whole vision is that over time, our entire community will get used to the idea that when you buy or sell a home, you donate $25 to the Arizona Housing Fund to help the homeless situation,” Epstein says.
Escrow is not the only lane of revenue, though, and Epstein encourages everyone to get involved if they have the means. Direct donations can also be made at www.arizonahousingfund.org, and store and business owners can agree to a donation program or sign up to be community partners. Every dollar counts when rolling out this new project.
Since its launch several months ago, AZHF has already garnered major community support and is pulling in donations.
Meritage Homes has already signed on to the $25 escrow program, and since going live, the website has been a major source of direct donations.
“I am happy to say we have already been collecting donations, both private donors and donations,” Epstein says.
Epstein’s neighbor and colleague on the Arizona Housing Inc., Tim Sprague, said the reaction has been tremendous.
“I think the biggest difficulty is that there’s not enough hours in the day to talk to everyone,” Sprague says.
The fund has already garnered over 20 community partners and growing. Through the countless presentations and phone calls, the Arizona Housing Fund is trying to reach as many people as possible.
“People, I think, are genuinely good and people want to help others, but what normally happens is that it stops there, and it stops there because getting involved takes time, it takes time out of their schedules, it takes time out of work, it takes time away from their families,” Sprague says. “This is a very, very easy way for everybody to get involved and help.”
To test out this new way of garnering homeless support, the Arizona Housing Fund will work towards funding 36 more units at Collin’s Court Inc., a PSH unit near 33rd Ave. and Peoria.
“The whole idea is to bring new stock, new units, new inventory to our community, that’s what we need the most,” says Epstein.
With the tremendous support the fund is garnering, the future looks bright for this endeavor. However, both Sprague and Epstein know homelessness is a long way from being solved completely.
“I think we are the only state that is doing it like this, and there are a lot of people who think if we can show the rest of the country that this works, it can be rolled out everywhere, and I think that’s pretty exciting,” Epstein says on the main goal of the fund.
When offered affordable housing and access to clinical and social services, a person is less likely to return to the streets.
Homelessness is often categorized into four main categories: chronic, hidden, episodic and transitional, and ranges from children to elderly.
There is also a select portion of the population that is not interested in seeking out help, due to personal reasons.
“It’s not going to solve homelessness, we’re not trying to help everyone; we’re trying to help those who want stable housing who don’t have it today,” Epstein explains, noting that the main clientele are those who are the most vulnerable, such as the mentally ill and handicapped.
Epstein and Sprague both encourage anyone interested in finding our more information to visit the project website at www.arizonahousingfund.org to explore the options of involvement.
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Syerra Rodriguez is a current undergraduate at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, ASU. She is interested in spreading environmental awareness through her writing and integrates many elements of green living into her own life.