Heavy hitters from the public and private sectors launched a fundraising campaign Friday to fight homelessness in the Valley, calling on Arizonans to contribute $1 million in 1 million seconds to the downtown Phoenix homeless campus.
Buffeted by job losses and foreclosures, a new kind of homeless person is emerging in the Valley, they said. Someone who looks just like you.
"When we look at people who are homeless, we are looking in the mirror," said Phoenix City Councilman Greg Stanton. "Any of us could be in that situation."
The number of people seeking help at the Human Services Campus, a collaboration of 15 nonprofit agencies, has doubled in recent weeks. The campus provides shelter, food, health care, job training and other emergency and transitional services to adult men and women.
East Valley cities help fund the Phoenix campus; more than 20 percent of its emergency shelter residents come from Mesa and surrounding communities.
Program director David Bridge said the nearby Vista Colina center can house 36 families, but turns away three out of four who seek shelter.
The main 400-bed shelter is full, as is a 300-bed overflow facility. For the past several months, more than 200 men and women have been sleeping on the asphalt parking lot, supervised by off-duty Phoenix police officers and visited by social workers.
Bridge said a "perfect storm" of problems, including funding cuts at all levels of government, are pushing more people into homelessness and stretching social-service agencies thinner.
"We have our traditional client base," he said. "But we are starting to see signs of the economic fallout."
Two homeless shelters in Mesa - La Mesita for families and the East Valley Men's Center - serve hundreds of people a year. Residents must be looking for work during a maximum four-month stay.
A faith-based program in Tempe shelters up to 30 people five nights a week at rotating churches. Half of them are working, said Stephen Sparks of the Tempe Community Action Agency, which coordinates the program.
"Many more people are on the brink of needing services who've never needed it before," Sparks said. "Particularly utility and rent assistance."
Statewide and in Maricopa County, the number of households receiving food stamps is up more than 25 percent over last year. Even the cash assistance program, which has declined steadily since the welfare reform of the mid-1990s, is inching up in the Valley.
"The growth (in the food stamp program) has been quite steep, and it's been pretty steady," said program director Marco Liu of the state Department of Economic Security.
At a Friday news conference at the Human Services Campus, politicians, a lobbyist, a firefighter and a minister said the new homeless are people who just weeks ago had careers and a mortgage.
"We think it's about jobs," campus director Arlene Pheiff-Maraj said later. "We know we're not even seeing the tip of the iceberg."
State Attorney General Terry Goddard said a nearly 180 percent increase in foreclosures and a jobless rate topping 6 percent have driven more and more Valley residents to the brink.
"Many people feel the pins have been knocked out from under them," he said.
As officials spoke, homeless men and women milled about and listened, bemused. Some complained about the shelter food or the rules that have kept them out.
Darryll Kescoli and three of his friends may represent the old face of homelessness.
Heading up 12th Avenue after having lunch at the shelter, they paused for a minute to listen to the news conference.
Kescoli, originally from Piñon in the heart of the Navajo Nation, said he didn't stay at the shelter because it was too crazy and he drinks. He said alcoholism has kept him homeless.
"It started out as being fun," he said of drinking. "But now I need it everyday."
Organizers of the One Step Away fundraising campaign are urging people to give even $5 or $10 over the next 12 days.
At Mesa's A New Leaf, which also runs counseling, youth and domestic violence programs, donations have been strong despite the battered economy.
"The support that we've had for this holiday giving season ... has been just as much or even stronger than in the past. We will not have any families going without," said Torrie Taj, vice president for marketing and development.
"The community has just reached out and said, 'Hey, things might be tight. But we're going to give anyway.'"