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New housing bill to create "safe havens," establish drug-free housing services to address homelessness

Arizona’s senators voted in favor of passing a bill to improve and establish drug-free housing services, create shelters for people experiencing homelessness and establish service funds to provide grants to operators. The vote was passed “as amended to do pass recommendation,” said Senator John Kavanagh, representing District 3, meaning the bill will move forward with a few changes. 

The bill was created in hope of providing homeless individuals a more prosperous living environment. Arizona House Representative for District 4, Matt Gress, is this bill’s sponsor. Gress started his speech by addressing individuals who live on the streets and their family members, stating that the government on all levels has failed them. 

Rather than taking a deeper dive into fixing the root cause of homelessness, the government's main focus was getting people off the streets without any requirements or a structured system to ensure individuals stayed off the streets. 

“For years, our government has pursued a housing-first strategy. And for those of you who don't know what that terminology means, housing first provides individuals experiencing homelessness with shelter even if they suffer from drug addiction or mental illness,” said Gress. 

Gress emphasizes that the bill ensures that housing units are “safe havens” for individuals and holds providers accountable for creating the environment. Social service providers who violate this standard would be subject to criminal charges. The bill also aims to create and fund facilities for individuals dealing with drug abuse to facilitate the help they need.

Arizona Senator David Farnsworth voted in favor of the bill, and while he agrees that the bill is not perfect, he has a personal connection to the issue. 

“I was homeless because of mental illness at the time,” said Farnsworth. He sought out Value Options, which was one of the providers at the time. 

“I knew I was in trouble. They evaluated me and decided I was not serious enough to keep,” he said after voting in favor of the bill after experiencing firsthand the help needed for individuals experiencing homelessness that goes beyond housing.

Nicole Newhouse, the executive director of the Arizona Housing Coalition, highlights the lack of clarity regarding enforcement mechanisms for homeless service providers and the practicality and effectiveness of enforcing such regulations. 

“While aiming to establish a drug-free homeless services zone, the bill's punitive approach, though imposing additional criminal penalties for drug-related violations, may inadvertently worsen the vulnerabilities of homeless individuals,” said Newhouse. 

Senators have considered Newhouse’s points and concerns. For that reason, they are willing to proceed with the bill only, with the exception of discussing and rewriting it to ensure its successful execution. 

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