CSH Anniversary Interview Series with Merl Waschler, Valley of the Sun United Way

What have we learned about who needs supportive housing and who doesn’t?

Merl Waschler: Valley of the Sun United Way, our Ending Homelessness Advisory Council, and our many partners have learned through a focus and intention on creating permanent supportive housing (PSH) for chronically homeless individuals that PSH truly works. In Maricopa County the effects of developing new partnerships and working toward a common agenda of creating 1,000 units of PSH for chronically homeless individuals has led to new energy in the local efforts to end homelessness. Systems have adapted, providers have shifted their paradigm, local business leaders support and advocate for policy change, and resources have been freed up for individuals and families who have a crisis and an episode of homelessness.

What have we learned from supportive housing’s experience in homelessness and how this lesson can be applied to other sectors?  

Waschler: VSUW’s work in developing a PSH initiative for chronically homeless individuals is being applied to our development of goals and strategies for other subpopulations of individuals and families experiencing homelessness, as well as determining how to apply the lessons to creating and implementing strategies to prevent homelessness. The other community objectives of VSUW: ensuring children and youth succeed, ending hunger, and increasing the financial stability of individuals and families are also benefiting from the lessons in our PSH initiative. For example the Advisory Council model utilized in Homelessness based on other communities’ “funders councils” is being replicated in other VSUW objectives. It is not the structure of the Advisory Council alone that is a lesson, it is the development of relationships and identifying engagement strategies that are also lessons.

What are the most promising policy opportunities?

Waschler: In Maricopa County we have promising policy opportunities in working with eight local public housing authorities on plans to commit Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) to PSH projects through new goals to project base HCVs. In addition we continue to work with the Arizona Department of Housing to ensure that the State’s Qualified Allocation Plan includes the most efficient usage of a set-aside for PSH for chronically homeless individuals.

Given all the economic constraints, how do you make the case or what is the most compelling argument for supportive housing?

Waschler: The most compelling case is that ending chronic homelessness through permanent supportive housing “costs” the community less than keeping individuals in a perpetual state of homelessness. We have utilized CSH’s national research, as well as a local report of the ASU Morrison Institute titled “Richard’s Reality” to educate and inform community leaders. Early success in Maricopa County with just a few PSH projects have changed the dynamics in a positive way on our local Human Services Campus with increased collaboration and a client-centered mentality to do whatever it takes to engage individuals experiencing homelessness in services and matching them with the most appropriate housing resource.

In 10 years from now what will supportive housing look like / what role will it play in our community?  What is your most radical bold vision?

Waschler: The VSUW 2020 goal is to have reduced homelessness by 75% which means moving from a point-in-time number of 8,000 individuals experiencing homelessness to a number of 2,000. Supportive housing in 2020-2022 will include opportunities for not only chronically homeless individuals, but families, youth, elderly, and veterans. This whole effort will have made a collective impact on the complex issues related to housing and homelessness. Our bold vision is to end homelessness in Maricopa County!

Merl Waschler is the President & CEO of the Valley of the Sun United Way

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