PHOENIX - Service providers have joined with Phoenix police to attack chronic homelessness by reaching out to people who won't ask for assistance.
Specialists with Central Arizona Shelter Services, Arizona's largest homeless shelter, and police officers have been working in downtown Phoenix four nights a week to engage homeless people who have severed connections with service providers and are struggling with mental illnesses or substance abuse.
Central Arizona Shelter Services' chief executive, Mark Halloran, said the team reaches out to "the most fragile" of the homeless.
"These are the ones that have lost hope," said Halloran, whose agency offers housing, medical help, mental-health services and job placement. "Our community cannot afford to have people on the street who have given up."
The program offers immediate solutions: a place to sleep for the night and next-day detox, mental-health help or other services.
Most people initially say no but they become more accepting the more the team interacts with them on a regular basis.
Police say the team effort is decreasing violent and property crimes in downtown Phoenix while saving taxpayers thousands of dollars in jail booking fees.
Officers accompany shelter specialists to provide security. The police presence also encourages homeless parolees to enter treatment rather than go to jail.
Ben Zachariah, the shelter supervisor for adult services who helped develop the street team in 2006, said most of the 2,800 homeless they've seen have severed connections with service providers, aren't taking medications or are abusing drugs.
Zachariah said part of the problem was the system: Social-service entities worked independently to combat homelessness, but lack of communication led the groups sometimes to duplicate efforts or miss a segment of the population entirely.
"I got frustrated and said, 'I'm going to do something about it,' " Zachariah said.