City and County update their joint efforts to curtail homelessness

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 7:26 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Tucson and Pima County have joined forces to try to end homelessness in our region and have invested a great deal of time and resources into the effort.

“Housing first makes sure that each person has a roof over their heads, a warm meal, a place to take a shower and to wash their clothes,” said Tucson Mayor Regina Romero at the start of a report from the city task force on homelessness. “We need to do something different than has been done for decades in the past.”

Tucson has adopted a housing first approach to ending people living on the streets on in washes. First, get them into shelter and then begin the treatment they need.

The city has purchased a series of hotels to house the homeless and is purchasing another with 50 more rooms adding more space.

Pima County says “there are three areas that we discussed in collaboration with the city, according to Asst. County Administrator Steve Holmes.”

First, according to a memo released by the county just prior to its January 24, meeting, they’re trying to determine whether they can use statewide ordinances to keep the homeless out of the washes. That’s important, the county says, because of recent rains and the rescue of several homeless who were camping in the Rillito River and who had to be rescued when rapidly rising waters trapped them on a small island.

Secondly, adopting signage in areas where panhandling is predominate, specifically 32 county intersections where they would place signs tells motorists to give to organizations which help the homeless rather than give to panhandlers.

And thirdly, installing more lighting in those areas, including the business community, which are prone to crime. At a recent meeting, several business owners confronted the county board over crime they say was committed by homeless people. They also said crime committed by the homeless has been on the rise.

But the one issue which causes a great deal of damage, drugs, is still an issue in which a solution is hard to find. Drug issues are very common among the homeless population.

“Just in January, from January ninth to the 13th this year we had 15 fentanyl overdoses, which is five more that the Phoenix valley,” Tucson Police Chief Chad Kasmar, told the council.

He added there were 468 overdose deaths in Pima County last year. 271 of them were fentanyl.