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Phoenix homeless encampment is home to nearly 1,000 people

<i>KTVK/KPHO</i><br/>Less than a mile from Arizona's state capitol sits one of the country's largest homeless encampments
Less than a mile from Arizona's state capitol sits one of the country's largest homeless encampments

By Amy Cutler

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     PHOENIX (KTVK, KPHO) — Less than a mile from our state capitol sits one of the country’s largest homeless encampments, and it continues to grow. It sits right outside the sprawling Human Services Campus, which provides food, medical care, and legal services to the poor. The tents stretch for blocks in every direction and inside each of them is a person and story.

“It’s not as easy as it sounds or seems,” Shelton Shield said. He called the encampment home off and on for the last year. He doesn’t have any family to stay with. Without options, he set up his tent in this area that has become known as “the Zone.”

“It’s rough, it’s rough, winters it’s cold, summers is hot, fights, lots of fights. You’ve got to fight to defend yourself,” he said. The Human Services Campus is a non-profit. Each week they count how many people are outside their gates. The number is now about a thousand.

“We have struggled for about a year to find a place, but the rents keep going up, even working full-time and getting a second job,” this woman said. She would be sleeping in her car if it weren’t for a friend. She asked that we not give her name. She’d come to the encampment to visit a friend.

That campus has a shelter that provides beds to 470 people. They recently added mats, allowing another 50 to stay there. On Monday a new structure on that campus opened that will house another 100 people.

“We do want them to have an assigned bed, so they know every night they can come in here, they don’t have to wait in line,” Amy Schwabenlender, the Executive Director of the Human Services Campus said. The city acknowledges the problem and said it’s spending $50 million this fiscal year to address it.

“Those resources include shelter, rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, navigation, case management, and a wonderful new behavioral health program we’re partnering with mercy care on,” Scott Hall, the Interim Deputy Director for Homeless Services for the City of Phoenix said. “No one deserves to be unsheltered and on the street and that’s why we’re putting every effort to get people into housing, housing is how you end homelessness ultimately,” he continued.

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