Homelessness has always been a matter of life and death, and now in the face of COVID-19 that fact is truer than ever before.
In this moment of crisis, partners and communities have come together to protect their most vulnerable neighbors — something Tamara Wright has witnessed firsthand in Phoenix and Maricopa County.
Maricopa County represents the fourth most populous county in the United States, with a population of 4.4 million people. In it, there are more than 7,000 individuals experiencing homelessness on any given night, and 450 of these individuals are veterans.
“This community has been committed to reducing and ending veteran homelessness, and is going to extraordinary lengths to continue to keep our unhoused neighbors safe,” said Wright, Systems Transformation Advisor at Community Solutions.
Responding to COVID-19
Wright recalled when COVID-19 began to emerge in her community and quickly spread, turning the county into one of the country’s hot spots. The crisis quickly revealed gaps in their systems — from testing to emergency housing to personal protective equipment — and the tremendous risk for people experiencing homelessness.
As local leaders came together to respond, Rocket Mortgage stepped in.
“Rocket Mortgage was able to offer unprecedented support so that our frontline staff, and the people we are serving, were able to get the support they need.”
The team was able to distribute everything from 14,000 masks to testing for COVID, to meals, to emergency housing. All of this support was able to reach more than 1,000 people in need.
The community’s partnership with Rocket Mortgage, and their joint efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, were featured on NBC.
“Maricopa County has been going above and beyond with the scarce resources we have to keep people who are experiencing homelessness safe and move them into housing,” she said.
A Foundation for Homeless Response
This response was the most recent test of a local system that serves people experiencing veteran homelessness. The community was able to benefit from a data-driven, coordinated system that had long been strengthened and supported by local leaders and Built for Zero.
“We understand that solving this complex problem is bridging the gap between the systems and individual level,” she said. “In other words, Built for Zero is about building a system that takes anonymity out of homelessness in their community, so every individual who experiences homelessness is known by name, in real time, and connected with a system that can remove barriers that stand in the way of a home.”
Investments from partners like Rocket Mortgage have strengthened their ability to respond to the needs of people who enter the homeless system.
Wright recalled veterans who had been languishing in transitional housing — temporary accommodations for people experiencing homelessness — who were able to move into assisted living where they could get the support they need, and a permanent home.
“We were able to keep families together,” she said. “This included one veteran who was at risk of remaining homeless because his dog needed basic training.”
In another case, the funding provided by Rocket Mortgage ensured that veterans were not trapped in homelessness because of unpaid legal fees related to evictions.
“Together we’re working to create a community where veteran homelessness is rare overall, and brief when it occurs, so that people who have served our country have a place to call home,” Wright said.