Phoenix Police Community Action Officer Aaron Stevens says he can get a homeless person into public housing in hours, but only if they truly want off the streets. “The true homeless are easy to find, and we can help them,” Stevens said at a Jan. 26 meeting of the Seventh Avenue Merchants Association. “We have everything in line for that.”
Stevens acts as a liaison between several City departments and social agencies under the Phoenix Community Action Response & Engagement Services program which announced an emphasis toward ending homelessness late last year.
He said C.A.R.E.S. and its partners, including Phoenix Rescue Mission and Community Bridges will provide limited transportation and housing to homeless at no cost. “I can take them from initial contact to an apartment in two-and-a-half hours, but they have to buy in.”
Stevens said City prosecutors will even agree to non-jail terms for misdemeanor warrants. “We’ll make you a deal,” he said. “All you have to do is stop doing what you’re doing (drugs).” Phoenix P.D. doesn’t have much discretion for felony warrants, which must be negotiated with the County, and Stevens said he struggles to get most homeless to participate. “I can’t get 30 days out of most of them,” he told S.A.M.A. “It’s the rehab that’s so hard.”
Stevens said his success rate in cooperation has fallen from 7% to about 4% in the last several months. “My world right now is vacant properties,” he said. “I have camps all over the place.” He described a transient camp behind the Kelly Paper distribution warehouse at 13th Avenue and Indian School. “The people in the camp, you don’t want to know who those people are,” he said. “There’s a lot of heroin use. I’ve yet to find a truly homeless person in the camps that I work.”
Stevens told residents at the Melrose-Woodlea Association meeting February 6th he was able to convince a 51-year-old woman from that camp to work with Phoenix C.A.R.E.S. “To my great surprise she went into housing,” he said. “It’s not the first time but it’s been a long time.” Stevens said the woman from out a state was very honest about her addiction to methamphetamine. “I told her ‘just stop smoking it and everything will be o.k.”
Stevens and other Phoenix P.D. Community Action officers sometimes volunteer their own personal vehicles to dispose of refuse in the camps after budget cuts eliminated roving cleanups with City crews. “It’s looking a lot better,” he said of the 13th Avenue camp. “It’s a daily thing.”
Stevens can be reached at the Mountain View Precinct Police Station at 2075 E. Maryland Avenue or by calling 602-495-3638. Learn more about Phoenix Cares at https://www.phoenix.gov/phxcares.