Maricopa County official: our homelessness rate has nearly doubled since 2012

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As the number of people who are homeless in Maricopa County grows, county officials say they are working hard to address the issue.

Steve Chucri, Chairman for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, says tackling major issues like homelessness are his primary focus as Chairman.

“One thing that scares me is to see our homelessness rate almost doubled in the last five years. That includes youth. We have to ask how that’s happened,” Chucri says.

One of the main factors attributed to the growing number of people who are homeless is substance abuse, particularly the opioid crisis that is prevalent in the county. It’s an issue that Governor Doug Ducey has promised to work on this year, as he said in his state of the state address on Tuesday night.

Currently, the county offers rapid rehousing programs, but they have shown to not be enough. “Get politics out of the way and agree to put these people in housing now,” Chucri says. Chucri is determined to get to the root of the problem and find a solution. Nothing will get done, according to Chucri, if there is no ambition to do better.

Chucri briefly mentions the politics surrounding the future of Chase Field. While he wants baseball to remain downtown and to remain in the same facility, he says he will not settle on a happy compromise if it hurts the taxpayer. The talks between the county and the Diamondbacks are private for the time being, but Chucri says they have been productive.

TED SIMONS: Ward added that Bannon was never part of her campaign and never an advisor despite Bannon appearing on stage with ward at a campaign rally last year. Maricopa county board of supervisors has a new chairman. He is Steve Chucri who took over this week and announced his goals and visions for the county. We welcome him Steve Chucri to Arizona "Horizon." Good to see you. Congratulations on getting back on the chairman. You were a chair previously?

STEVE CHUCRI: Just a few years ago, correct.

TED SIMONS: It moves around.

STEVE CHUCRI: It does and allows each leadership style to take effect for a year and then we will support the next chairman, but it’s a nice way to conduct county business.

Ted: There wasn't a palace coo?

STEVE CHUCRI: No, there wasn't a palace coo, Danny Barney was doing a terrific job and can still do the same.

TED SIMONS: What is the state of Maricopa County?

STEVE CHUCRI: I would say the state of Maricopa County is good. As I enter my six year as a county supervisor, ted, I will tell you the best way to describe it would be the focusing of a camera lens. When we came into office, Maricopa County had problems not too long ago. It was virtually on the front page of the paper not for a good reason but bad for a period of time. I think what this new board has been able to work together to say okay, we had to come in and repair things that needed attending to. Then we had reforms we wanted to take care of and I think in government, reforms should always be at the center plate of what we do. You never reformed everything. Today in what we are looking going forward is how do we be the visionary we should be for the fourth most populated county in America? That was what where y wanted to bring to everyone's attention yesterday as I was brought in as the new chair.

Ted: As far as your vision you’ve talked about building a smart and sustainable future. What does that mean?

STEVE CHUCRI: It means how do we build upon the five Cs we were founded on as a state. We spoke earlier about the visionaries in the country but here in Arizona. All the folks that made Arizona what it is today. Now we are at a critical point in time as leaders to make sure that we’re finding what will take us into the next 100 years. What will allow our kids to stay here and more importantly maybe our kid's, kids to stay here? When you look at the urban core and the fact that we are having, sadly, heat deaths and heat illnesses. We are seeing the heat index go up. You heard a report that 2017 was the hottest year on record. It is looking at these things and saying how do we work together to start plotting a plan forward to ensure that Arizona is going to still be great a 100 years from now.

TED SIMONS: And specifically we can go both directions. Some of the successes and some of the challenges that still exist. We talked about heat but other things you think need a little improvement?

STEVE CHUCRI: I am a republican and people think the republicans are about business principles and the private sector market economies. I think that has its place in Arizona's economy and future. One thing that scares me is to see our homelessness rate grow by almost double in the past five years. Right here in the heart of the downtown phoenix area and as we go into our neighboring cities within Maricopa County, we are seeing increased homelessness and that includes youth. You have to factor that in and say where is this as we look forward how come this is happening? In some cases it is people walking in between the raindrops right, who fell on hard times. I will never forget president Nixon said show me a man or woman that faced adversity in their life and I will show you someone that has done something with their life. How do we get these people that have fallen on hard times you get them back on their feet and get them to be productive citizens again? How do we get folks with mental illness through no fault of their own? How do we get them equipped with medicine and back into society as a productive citizen?

TED SIMONS: What can government do along those lines? We have had homeless forever. Obviously it’s getting worse, the population is increasing so that can explain some of it. But it’s still getting worse the attention has been there. What is not working? What needs to be done?

STEVE CHUCRI: Substance abuse and this is no stranger to the news and especially the work you do on a daily basis to find out we have an Opioid issue right here in Arizona, right here in downtown phoenix. That is a cause of this. It is substance abuse that has contributed to this. If you look at the efforts we’re trying to do and saying how do we recognize that and get folks into programs to rehabilitate them and get them off the substance and get them into a program that will help them and not only help them by not living in the street but also get a job and grow as a person. We are doing that in a few ways. We have rapid re housing programs. It is not just a short stint. How do you become dependent? How do you feel good about yourself when you are sleeping on the street? On the corner? You have to get these people into housing first. Then you have to develop what is the root cause of why they got there in the first place? That is what we’re doing with the human services campus that’s what we’re doing in conjunction with St, Vince De Paul, and other municipalities who say we need to stand up and do this together.

TED SIMONS: As far as public private partnerships are concerned, big?

STEVE CHUCRI: Big, very big and I think that is where we go, that’s how we go and get there. Right now we have people sleeping on the floor of Saint Vincent de Paul after they serve their last meal at night because we cannot use capacity. We have capacity for more beds but the question is how do we get all of us together and agree? And make that hard decision, get politics out of the way and agree let’s put these folks into housing now cause we have space.

TED SIMONS: It seems like on the county level politics is a bit of a back seat. We don't see the fussing and fighting on the board of supervisors that we see in other political entities. We have seen certain office holders in the County have high profiles that aren’t necessarily the best but as far as the board of supervisors things are relatively civil. Can you get things done with a relatively civil? Or do you need the fussing and fight?

STEVE CHUCRI: You need ambition and when I say ambition you have to have the passion to do better. I think my colleagues and many of us ran on the fact that there was too much fussing going on in Maricopa County and no work was getting done. How can we come in as a new board and let’s start elbowing each other to see who can get the most done. My colleague's weaknesses are my strengths and my weaknesses are their strengths and that is how we look at it together as a group, as a board of five. You can rest assured, ted, when we find something that needs attention and that other folks aren’t going to agree we will sing from the roof tops and we’re going to trump that very loud, and if we still don't get somewhere than we will push a little. I think on this homeless Ted, you’re going to start to see some pushing because it’s getting to a great concern for a lot of us.

TED SIMONS: It definitely is and a variety of places around town. Hey I cannot let you go without talking about chase field. I understand there is secret talks going on regarding mediation this sort of thing. First of all why are they secret?

STEVE CHUCRI: Two fold. They are not secret but as in any case that happens with litigation or lawyers involved between two parties and a special especially when you’re talking about mediation you have keep it private. This is judge sanctioned. This isn’t because of what we’ve said. Here’s what I want Ted, I want baseball to remain in downtown phoenix as long as we can have it in that facility. We will come to an agreement with the D backs. You know why because I am an optimistic man and I know the will of my board. The will is how can we have a happy compromise but we can’t have a happy compromise at the expense of the taxpayer. That’s what this has been about we will protect the tax payer we will ensure that baseball is in downtown. The fact remains that we have an agreement that our tenant that happens to be the Dbacks, want a different part of that agreement and I think we have a responsibility and try and accommodate that. But we can’t do that at the expense of the tax payer.
TED SIMONS: So the talks are private?
STEVE CHUCRI: So the talks are private, but I will tell you this Ted, there’s good news. The talks are being productive and we’re not, to use another analogy. We’re moving the ball down the field happens to be a football right. Not a baseball but we’re moving the ball down the field and I think we’re gonna get to a good place.

TED SIMONS: And quickly, it is good to have you here but do you find that lots of folks in Maricopa County don't know what the county board of supervisors does?

STEVE CHUCRI: We find that often. In some ways it is the rule not the exception. As an arm of the state of Arizona we are an arm of the state of Arizona. We’re backfilling where a lot of other municipalities of the state can't. In some ways maybe the taxpayers when we are not doing our job so well they will know. But in most cases when I go and people are in my district people are understanding more and more what Maricopa County does.

TED SIMONS: Well congratulations on the chairmanship again. We will look forward to see what happens out of the board. Coming up on Arizona "Horizon," some big names in jazz are headed this way for the Tucson Jazz Festival. We will talk about that next.

Steve Chucri: Chairperson, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors

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