The Maricopa County Hotels to Housing program used various federal funding to serve more than 600 homeless persons with bridge housing through hotels and move more than 300 of those persons to permanent housing. This work served a large group of homeless persons by capitalizing on additional federal funding and leveraging partnerships with homeless service providers creating a highly impactful response to COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on homeless persons. Other jurisdictions can adopt similar approaches to significantly impact homelessness in their own jurisdictions.
Problem or Need for the Program
Although there has been a longstanding need in Maricopa County for affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this issue. For example, from 2019 to 2020 the Maricopa County point-in-time homeless count increased from 6,614 to 7,419 (12% growth) with unsheltered increasing from 3,188 to 3,767 (18% growth). The remaining 3,562 homeless persons in 2020 includes those who are in transitional and emergency housing. However, it is important to remember that only a fraction of those in this group are able to obtain permanent housing.
Maricopa County’s COVID-19 homelessness response included housing and assisting with positive outcomes for people experiencing homelessness that stayed in the Maricopa County hotels. A key positive outcome that the County wanted to address was to ensure more people exit temporary housing into permanent housing versus going back to being homeless. Although this issue of homeless persons going back to being homeless is not unique to Maricopa County or to the pandemic, Maricopa County saw a unique opportunity to better assist its homeless populations and assist its partner homeless service providers through its recent federal funding.
Description of the Program
The primary goal of this work is to provide permanent housing solutions. More specifically, the Hotels to Housing program offers access to permanent housing to people that were displaced due to COVID-19 and those that are at risk for having severe medical issues related to COVID-19. To do this Maricopa County Human services Department leveraged multiple funding sources including Emergency Solutions Grant for COVID-19 (ESG-CV), CARES Act Funding, and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to lease hotels specific hotels, located in Phoenix, AZ, and assist homeless service providers (partners) to operate hotels. Due to its longstanding positive relationships with certain partners, Maricopa County chose to partner with three (3) key service providers in their housing efforts: Community Bridges, Inc. Native American Connections and Human Services Campus.
The hotels were operating as Bridge Housing for the people experiencing homelessness. Service providers, through their case manager staff, assisted people with finding housing in order to allow some to move out of homelessness and into permanent housing situations. To ensure this project/program meets its primary goals, Maricopa County regularly obtains and reviews performance reports and data and is in frequent communication with the providers to ensure operations are working smoothly. This consistent interaction has proved invaluable in ensuring the overall success of the program (see the results section).
Responding to Economic Downturn
The COVID-19 Pandemic caused numerous lockdowns and social distancing measures affecting not only individual homeless persons who may have lost access to services or were more at risk of contracting COVID-19, but also the homeless service providers. More specifically, several Maricopa County partners who are homeless service providers communicated much greater difficulty serving homeless persons during the pandemic and had to reduce capacity to meet isolation protocols. By using the influx of federal funding, Maricopa County was able to not only assist these providers but directly assist homeless persons by getting them into permanent housing and funding COVID-19 isolation services. These actions helped not only improve a key social determinant of health (housing) but reduced the risk of these homeless persons contracting COVID-19.
Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
During the COVID-19 pandemic some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and its economic effects were homeless persons. These persons often struggle to obtain services they need and, arguably, of the most important service these persons need is permanent housing. Through this Hotels to Housing initiative Maricopa County was able to address an equity gap and significantly impact a large group of homeless persons by bringing them into permanent housing.
The Cost of the Program
The entire cost of the program to the County is $28.1 million. However, it is important to remember that this program is funded through multiple federal funding programs including the CARES Act ($12 million), American Rescue Plan Act ($15 million) and Emergency Solutions Grant COVID-19 ($1.1 million). It is also important to understand the potentially higher costs the county may face in dealing with their homeless populations if it chooses not to adopt this type of program. For example, healthcare costs the county may incur can often be higher for those who are homeless compared to those in permanent housing. Therefore, it is important to consider how moving homeless into permanent housing will affect other county costs.
Results/Success of the Program
Through three (3) County hotels located in downtown Phoenix 681 people were provided with Bridge Housing. Of those 681, 341 of them (50%) have already exited the shelter into permanent housing.
High Risk Shelter operated by Community Bridges (SureStay)
- Number of Units: 36
- Current Occupancy: 46
- Permanently Housed 140
- Total Served Through: 276
Bridge Hotel operated by Native American Connections (Rodeway)
- Number of Units: 37
- Current Occupancy: 31
- Permanently housed: 132
- Total Served Through 268
Bridge Hotel Operated by Human Services Campus (Travelodge)
- Number of Units: 41
- Current Occupancy: 44
- Permanently housed: 70
- Total Served Through 141
COVID ISOLATION (Extend A Suites)
- Number of Units: 128
- Current Occupancy: 25
- Permanently housed: 54
- Total Served Through 2734
Worthiness of Award
This program deserves the Achievement Award because of helps fill a critical gap in services to County residents, its applicability to many other counties, and demonstrated results. One issue various jurisdictions face when providing homelessness services is ensuring those that those given temporary housing are able to be transferred to permanent housing to create lasting reductions in homelessness. Maricopa County, through the increase in federal funding, saw a significant opportunity to permanently house many of its homeless persons. The demonstrated results of permanently housing more than 300 homeless persons through its Hotels to Housing program shows the potential impact of this program. Other jurisdictions provided federal funding through CARES and ARPA funding can adopt similar initiatives to potentially significantly reduce their homeless populations.