Chandler is investing more in services for people in need this fiscal year than normal—in part to curb an influx of people suddenly at risk of losing their homes due to the financial hardships inflicted by the pandemic.

The city has a relatively low number of people experiencing homelessness compared to neighboring cities. According to the annual Point-In-Time Homeless Count conducted in January, the city last had 75 people experiencing homelessness. The annual Point-In-Time count is conducted in a four-hour window and does not serve as a comprehensive number, said Riann Balch, Chandler’s community resources manager.

number, said Riann Balch, Chandler’s community resources manager.

“What you are seeing, that was just the people we could count in the four-hour window,” Balch said. “It did not count the people in shelters, did not count any families. You can almost never count a family. Families often stay hidden. We know there are many people who aren’t counted each year. This year, we just don’t know what it’s going to look like. All the work we are doing to prevent homelessness is so important to keep that number low.”

Balch said in this fiscal year, Chandler allocated about $780,000 toward services addressing homelessness. But with the pandemic, this year that number doubled, Balch said, with the addition of more than $1.54 million in coronavirus relief at the state and federal levels. The city also allocated $1.85 million to local nonprofits—such as AZCEND—which offer services like rent and utility assistance, rapid rehousing, motel stays, temporary housing and more.

Chandler also has programs to assist those in need of housing solutions and has hired two more staff to assist people using the city’s rehousing programs.

“The number of people experiencing homelessness in Chandler is relatively low compared to some of our neighbors, which is great,” Balch said. “We really try to stay on top of having the right level of services and outreach to know how our population is doing. People often think of the folks that they can actually see, those people experiencing chronic homelessness.”

Experts are predicting a 30%-40% increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County, Balch said. According to a study from a Columbia University professor released in May, there could be an increase of around 250,000 people experiencing homelessness across the country by the end of 2020.

Balch said the city is allocating funding and resources where it can to try and prevent an onslaught of homelessness, especially as eviction moratoriums related to the pandemic are set to expire at the end of the calendar year.

“We anticipate that our numbers will increase quickly, not just here, but everywhere,” Balch said.

Rent and utility assistance

AZCEND CEO Trinity Donovan said the nonprofit has helped more people with rent and utility assistance from July to late October than it did between July 2019 and June 2020. Last year, the organization provided 1,717 rent or utility assistance payments in Chandler, totaling more than $840,000. So far this year, the nonprofit has provided 1,967 rent or utility assistance payments that totaled about $2.56 million, Donovan said.

Donovan said she believes there are many families living paycheck to paycheck on the verge of losing their homes—something that was true even in an affluent community like Chandler before the pandemic.

“I think it’s hard for people without seeing the actual numbers to understand that we are seeing such a huge level of increase,” Donovan said. “It wasn’t that prior to the pandemic there wasn’t a need. But because of the pandemic, we have seen that need exacerbated. Because of increased funding we’ve been able to serve more people, too.”

Prior to the pandemic, in Chandler, AZCEND provided three households a total of $2,500 in rental assistance and 20 households a total of about $8,450 in utility assistance a week, Donovan said. In one week in late October, the nonprofit provided 49 households with $142,500 in rental assistance and 105 households with more than $79,800 in utility assistance.

Donovan said the moratorium on pandemic-related evictions is helping many across Chandler and the state. The statewide eviction moratorium expired Oct. 31, but people may still be eligible for the federal eviction moratorium, which expires at the end of 2020. On Oct. 28, Gov. Doug Ducey announced $7 million to help renters and landlords.

“It’s important to acknowledge that we are still seeing people with needs that they experienced prior to the pandemic that may not be pandemic-related,” Donovan said, acknowledging that Chandler and the Valley lack affordable housing options. “Struggles look different for everyone.”

Preventive measures

Chandler recently expanded its partnership with Save the Family Foundation to get around 20 families into rapid rehousing with the city footing the bill, Balch said.

Save the Family Foundation is a nonprofit based out of Mesa that serves the East Valley and works with vulnerable families, CEO Jacki Taylor said.

“All of us in our field are very worried about a possible homeless tsunami once eviction moratoriums are lifted,” Taylor said. “It’s wonderful to have an infusion of dollars. It’s scary—a lot of people don’t understand the consequences of getting behind so dramatically in their rent.”

Laura Skotnicki, Save the Family chief operating officer, said Chandler is sponsoring 19 households and gave the nonprofit funds to help specifically with employment-related expenses as well. The goal is to get people into housing and employment as quickly as possible, Skotnicki said.

“We are part of that safety net that helps catch families and get them to a point where they can stabilize,” Skotnicki said.

The city is not alone in its efforts to bolster its investments in services for the housing insecure or those already experiencing homelessness. Countywide, the number of people experiencing homelessness has been on the rise since 2015, according to data from the Maricopa Association of Governments with the latest Point-In-Time count coming in at more than 7,400 across Maricopa County in January.

Tamara Wright, co-chair of Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care Board, said she fears those numbers will only get worse as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are expecting this is going to be much worse, and it’s already been getting a lot worse,” Wright said. “Our inflow of people experiencing homelessness has slowed down a little bit since the beginning of the pandemic, but we still have an inflow. There are still people being evicted and who have nowhere to go.”

Balch said the goal for Chandler is to keep people in their homes.

"Being evicted is extremely costly, and you stand the chance of losing everything you own, because there’s nowhere to go,” Balch said. “When you have an eviction record, it’s even more difficult to stay employed, and when you don’t have housing it’s incredibly difficult to keep a job. We really, really, really want to keep people housed and on track in their lives.”