PRESS RELEASE: While GOP leaders spread misinformation Democrats work on homelessness solutions
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 22, 2023
PHOENIX – Earlier this week, Senate President Warren Petersen appeared on a local news radio program and incorrectly stated multiple times that homeless shelters in Phoenix, including "the Zone" near the Capitol, "have empty beds right now." The comment was in defense of an amicus brief filed in federal court by Petersen and Speaker Ben Toma seeking authority to forcibly remove and jail people experiencing homelessness.
“The fact is, with an ongoing affordable housing crisis and more than 28,000 Arizonans falling in and out of homelessness this year, the downtown Phoenix shelters are overwhelmed,” said Representative Analise Ortiz. Ortiz is working with other Democratic lawmakers, the Governor's staff, and service providers on comprehensive solutions that don't criminalize people for simply existing without shelter.
"To go on the air and give the public the impression that people living outside at the Zone could simply step inside a shelter and find an empty bed is wrong and irresponsible," said Ortiz. "The experts working in our shelter network attest that there are only 2,182 shelter beds in Maricopa County. Yet, there are 5,000 adults currently on the waitlist for housing. There are essentially zero open beds and not enough permanent housing, so where exactly are people supposed to go?"
Assistant House Democratic Leader Oscar De Los Santos added that homelessness is a problem to solve, not a crime to prosecute. Indiscriminately sweeping people from the street and throwing them into jail will not solve this crisis.
"The Republican proposal to use city police officers to forcibly remove vulnerable people from the street and incarcerate them is short-sighted and places the cost of homelessness squarely on the taxpayers," De Los Santos said. "It costs more money to lock someone up in prison than to pay for the drug treatment, mental health treatment, and housing resources to ensure vulnerable Arizonans are placed on a permanent path of financial independence."
Republican lawmakers have also stood squarely opposed to community-based solutions, like the City of Scottsdale's successful effort working with a participating hotel to provide transitional housing for homeless families and veterans. House Republicans held a hearing in Scottsdale recently to question the mayor and stir up community opposition to the program.
"It's frustrating when a city comes forward with a well-thought-out program that works, and Republicans rush out to preempt it," said Rep. Judy Schwiebert, who attended the hearing. "Scottsdale has an 84 percent success rate in this public-private partnership that’s helping their city’s senior residents and single families with children have safe, temporary shelter with wrap-around services to support them in getting rehoused. Too many of our neighbors are just one paycheck from losing their homes. We should be encouraging and standing behind success, not standing in its way."
To that, Ortiz added, "If President Petersen is serious about tackling the root causes of homelessness, Democrats have been ready to start a bipartisan process of proposing real solutions. In fact, this week House and Senate Democrats convened the first meeting of our Housing Working Group, an intensive, weeks-long stakeholder process to draft language for legislation on housing and homelessness. We welcome Republican leadership to work seriously work with us and the homeless service providers who are on the frontlines every day. Those who are most directly impacted have been shouting from the rooftops that we do not have enough shelter beds, health care resources, or permanent housing and we can't solve that by throwing people in jail. It's time for Republican leadership to genuinely listen."
You can hear President Petersen's radio interview here.