Initiatives aim to mitigate housing insecurity and homelessness in Arizona

By

Hannah Saunders

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Health leaders met at the 2024 Arizona State of Reform Health Policy Conference this month to discuss efforts aimed at mitigating homelessness in the state. 

Steven Sheets, CEO of Southwest Behavioral & Health Services (SB&H), said SB&H has over 400 beds available on about 50 properties. 

“Most recently, we purchased an 18-unit apartment complex in North Central Phoenix to serve up to 36 individuals,” Sheets said.

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Four SB&H properties have been converted to serve individuals living with autism spectrum disorder, Sheets said. 

“We’ve converted most of our housing to treatment with housing,” Sheets said. 

Some of the people SB&H helps aren’t always ready to live on their own and need some support, Sheets said. So it offers supportive services like hygiene classes and breakfast classes where folks can learn how to make healthy meals with limited income. 

Sheets said every person who leaves SB&H receives job and education skills, personal physical fitness goals, and interpersonal skills gained through sharing a room with others. The facilities also help residents with positive conflict management and positive ways to seek assistance. 

Vicki Phillips, chief clinical & development officer for Community Bridges, Inc., said she brought behavioral healthcare into each of the shelters Community Bridges operates. Five of its eight shelters now offer counseling and connections to medication assisted treatment. 

“We’ve seen a lot of fentanyl in our systems and there have been overdoses,” Phillips said. “We wanted to make sure, in that setting, we’ve created that comprehensive programming.”

Community Bridges has seen an increasing number of senior citizens enter its shelters. This August, Community Bridges will open North Mountain Healing Center, which will have 100 beds within a closed campus. 

Elizabeth Da Costa, housing administrator for Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), said AHCCCS is working to develop the H2O program, which works to expand housing services for AHCCCS members who are at risk of or are actively experiencing homelessness. The program was approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in October 2022 under the state’s 1115 Medicaid Demonstration Waiver, Da Costa said.

“We can see reductions in emergency department utilization, reductions in inpatient admissions, (and) reductions in behavioral health residential facility admissions when members have the financial resources to lease up in a community of their choice, and then be able to access outpatient services,” Da Costa said.

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