Homelessness is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. I grew up in a family in which giving back and helping those in need were top priorities. I am committed to ending homelessness in Phoenix, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because our city will be better for it. I recently welcomed a senior policy adviser on homelessness to my team. Jodi Beckley Liggett has a big job ahead of her, because homelessness affects every corner of our city.
As the former CEO of the Arizona Foundation for Women and board chair of the Protecting Arizona Families Coalition (PAFCO), she was named one of Phoenix Business Journal’s “Forty under 40” most influential people. I look forward to her collaboration with my office and other city departments to help improve the lives of homeless Phoenicians.
Here is Jodi in her own words, answering a few questions about her new position:
How will your past experiences help you take on this role with the Mayor’s Office?
Jodi: My very first job in public service was working at the Arizona Legislature on Welfare reform, which really opened my eyes to the needs of the poor and those struggling to become self-sufficient. Later, I was the policy adviser for human services for Gov. Jane Hull, overseeing all sorts of programs for the vulnerable: CPS, Child Support, Developmental Disabilities, Aging, Domestic Violence and others, including the homeless. I learned a lot in that time about educating policymakers and the public regarding the needs of folks who are struggling. Beyond making the case for compassion, I found it was important to demonstrate the return on investment we all get when we maintain a strong safety net.
What is your vision for ending homelessness in Phoenix?
Jodi: Ending homelessness is a tall order and won’t be accomplished overnight. Yet, so much good work has been done over many years by dedicated professionals and advocates here in Phoenix. It certainly is possible to envision our community solving this problem; ending chronic, unsheltered homelessness. I also think we are well-positioned to capitalize on the increased public understanding of this issue. Citizens of Phoenix and Arizona are more aware of just how vulnerable we all are to economic setbacks, and there is a much better understanding now about substance abuse, mental health issues, and the struggles facing our returning veterans than there has been in years past. The mayor and I want to build on the good work and planning that has already been done in the region and be a catalyst for transforming our system into one that works for everyone.
How can neighborhoods get involved in helping to reduce and ultimately eliminate homelessness in the city?
Jodi: The best solution to homelessness is prevention. Every neighborhood has a faith community or small nonprofit working with at-risk populations, whether they are youth, returning vets, or struggling single mothers. Support your church’s food pantry, volunteer at a kitchen, serve on a nonprofit board or volunteer with an organization helping with substance abuse, education and training, or employment. Investing time and talent to help people avoid homelessness is a great way to reduce homelessness in our community.
Homelessness is a complex issue, what aspect do you feel requires the most immediate attention?
Jodi: Each subpopulation of the homeless is critically important and has its own pressing needs. The most immediate issue overall, however, is funding and the prospect of cuts at the state and federal level. The “safety net” services that the homeless and other vulnerable populations depend on have been decimated over the last four years. On top of the deep cuts that have been made recently to affordable housing programs, much larger cuts to homelessness and housing programs we depend on are scheduled to take place next year through “sequestration” the mechanism that enacts automatic cuts if Congress cannot come to an agreement on the budget. They need to act now to prevent catastrophic cuts that will set our community and others back years in our efforts to provide housing for all.
Are there other areas of interest you plan to work on for the Mayor’s Office?
Jodi: Yes. The issues of child sex trafficking, domestic violence, and poverty all overlap with homelessness and I look forward to working with our partners in the government, nonprofit, and private sector to helping address these problems so that all Phoenicians can live healthy, secure lives in safe communities.
• Greg Stanton was elected mayor of Phoenix in 2011.