Local town halls encourage discussion on homelessness

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Arizona’s homeless population jumped 23 percent between 2020 and 2022, according to a December U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report. In metro Phoenix, at least 9,000 people experienced homelessness.

Arizona Town Hall is a non-profit organization that holds public events across the state with the goal of raising awareness of community issues and encouraging dialogue. Luisa Rojas Valencia is a Fulbright scholar and doctoral student from the country of Colombia. Valencia joined our host Catherine Anaya on “Horizonte” to discuss the town hall she attended, what it was like and what she learned from it.

This was the first time you’ve participated in something like that. How would you describe the experience?

“It was very interesting. When I saw the flier, I thought, ‘This is going to be a talk.’ But when we started discussing in these small groups with people with different backgrounds, different professions, ages and some of them are both first responders and social workers, it was a very rich experience to share that knowledge and to propose new solutions for that problem.”

Let’s talk about the issues themselves and what you learned from them. What came out of that with regard to mental health, specifically among Latinos?

With regard to Latino populations, a stigma exists around mental health, especially for men, Valencia explained.

“We are part of a community, and as a community member, we can help to de-stigmatize the problem, to feel more compassion for family members that may have suffered from that problem.”

Valencia also said even though Black and Latino people experience similar rates of poverty, Hispanics experience less homelessness.

“One of the explanations that we learned from the report is that one of the reasons could be that Latino communities have stronger bonds with their extended families. So when someone may experience homelessness, because of being evicted, they move to the house of a family member.”

Tell me a little bit about your perspective, because it is a unique perspective, being a participant in this, and what else you were able to hear and learn, specifically because you are from another country.

“First, coming from Colombia, we have this idea, or at least I have it, that in developed countries, you don’t have those problems with homelessness, substance use, mainly homeless, and seeing the population in Arizona increase, especially after the pandemic, it’s a big concern. And I lived here before the pandemic, and all that time here. For me, it’s hard to believe that one of the wealthiest countries in the world has a problem.”

Valencia added, “But also by my experience working in the town hall, attending these meetings, it was a big surprise and a relief that these organizations are working toward approaching the community, increasing the services and involving the community. It’s an integrated approach to what the specific problem requires.” 

Luisa Rojas Valencia, Fulbright scholar and doctoral student

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