With compassion and with concern for public health and safety, the City of Tempe is advancing its assistance to unsheltered individuals living in the Salt River bed near Tempe Town Lake, and soon will enforce that it is a no trespassing area.
Since July, the homeless outreach and crisis response teams within Tempe’s Human Services Department, alongside community nonprofit partners, have been doing extensive one-on-one outreach in the river bed to provide resources, services and housing options. Those efforts have resulted in people accepting housing directly from the river bed, including five people Wednesday morning who decided to accept services after working with the outreach team in the field.
As part of the city’s outreach, teams have been informing individuals that they cannot remain after Aug. 31 due to health and safety concerns. The area can flood, and it is difficult for Tempe Fire Medical Rescue to access the area for medical calls or fires, which have increased significantly from six in 2017 to 71 in 2021. Hazards in the area include hypodermic needles, chemicals and human waste, and there is no drinking water or restrooms in the river bed.
Tempe believes that no one should live in unhealthy and unsafe conditions, and the city respects the rights and personal property of unsheltered people. As the number of unsheltered people across the region has grown and Tempe Fire Medical Rescue calls for service in the area have increased, the city intensified outreach and actions to help people into safer living conditions.
To bring resources and services to those in need, the city opened a Resource Village near the south bank of the river bed, allowing people to meet daily with staff in air conditioned trailers, receive cold bottled water and more comfortably talk about services. Tempe Municipal Court representatives are assisting people with certain outstanding warrants through the city’s new Warrant Resolution Program, designed to help eliminate barriers for those seeking shelter and services.
The city respects the rights and personal property of individuals experiencing homelessness. In support of this value, the city is providing a storage option at the Resource Village for personal belongings for individuals who want it.
Some people have been accepting services and some have been relocating on their own. Since July 1, approximately 75 people have engaged with outreach teams about shelter and services.
Notification has been made through individual interactions, resource cards, public notifications, and signs. Anyone remaining the river bed after Aug. 31 can be cited or arrested for trespassing.
From September through December, the city will dispose of debris and hazardous material and address overgrown vegetation. After this, the city will continue vegetation maintenance and monitoring the area to keep encampments from returning.
As the city is addressing safety and public health west of the dam, a similar effort is underway on the eastern end of the lake. Outreach teams have been in that area offering services.
In recent years, Tempe has expanded its housing options for unsheltered individuals. This month, in response to feedback from people who have accepted housing, the city is now supporting double occupancy, as appropriate, at city owned and leased motel rooms. In addition, Tempe regularly helps people into other housing options around the Valley and works daily to help people access more permanent housing and reconnect with family.
The river bottom initiative aligns with the city’s goal of making homelessness a rare, brief and one-time experience for those affected. The city has developed a comprehensive system of support that includes street outreach, case management, connection to social services, crisis response, mental health resources, victim and veteran services, emergency and transitional shelter, housing navigation and permanent housing solutions.
Earlier this month, Tempe launched new tools for residents and businesses to assist in our efforts and track our progress. Anyone can call the 24/7 CARE & HOPE Line at 480-350-8004 to help a person in need or experiencing homelessness. A new encampment reporting tool provides a simple way for people to share information about encampments that need to be addressed citywide. Find the form here, on the city’s 311 app or at tempe.gov/311.
A new public dashboard provides data related to our homeless outreach and encampment efforts. Find it at homeless-solutions.tempe.gov.