Phoenix C.A.R.E.S. homeless program seeks to centralize city relief efforts

(John Spevacek/DD) Phoenix C.A.R.E.S. is a program designed to centralize homelessness complaints, but it's had problems getting off the ground.

A new program aimed at centralizing homeless complaints directed at the city is still in its infancy stages, officials said Wednesday at a subcommittee meeting.

Phoenix Police Commander Anthony Vasquez explained the main problem the new program hopes to address is the lack of a centralized database to help agencies communicate.

“We were inconsistent in our response to the issues related to homelessness,” Vasquez said. “We saw that we needed better coordination.”

The new program, called Phoenix Community Action Response Engagement Services, or Phoenix CARES, hopes to launch a single phone number as a catch-all for complaints relating to homelessness. Complaints are then assigned to the appropriate agencies, who will follow up and reach out with services.

Previously, calls about homelessness were made to a variety of sources including Crime Stoppers, the Phoenix Fire Department and 911. The city of Phoenix received around 500 community complaints between March and August alone.

“It is a way for us to streamline and funnel the calls into one place,” Moe Gallegos, the Human Services director, said at the meeting. “We can know where to send out our services and we can coordinate our efforts better.”

The program is in testing and was launched for the first time in early July. Since calls are now being rerouted, the appropriate agencies can provide services like transportation to shelters, obtaining IDs and getting mental health assessments.

The Phoenix CARES program is already having a rough start. Vice Mayor Laura Pastor demanded answers regarding the details of the information spreadsheet.

“How do you know it gets to the right department and how do you know that the department has followed up?” Pastor said. “The reason why I’m pushing on this is because I’ve watched this for six months. I actually tested it.”

When asked if it worked, Pastor said it failed. “I believe in this collaboration, but at the end of the day someone has to take responsibility.”

For now, the program isn’t ready to launch the new phone number. The database linking the agencies remains a simple spreadsheet, and homeless numbers continue rising.

Other programs, like the Rapid Rehousing Project, are finding success. For the last 18 months, over 800 homeless people have found housing through the project.

Louanna Lee, a homeless woman staying in downtown Phoenix, found help with food and clothing through homeless outreach, but has not felt the effects of government-funded programs.

“I’ve been denied a couple times,” Lee said. “Then they say, ‘Go ask a different department,’ or they’ll send you somewhere else and then you just do a run-around.”

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