TUCSON (KVOA) - The issue of homelessness in Tucson has only gotten worse during the pandemic, and advocates fear conditions will continue to deteriorate in the months ahead.
“Things are worse and looking bad on the horizon,” said Brian Flagg, who has spent nearly four decades helping those experiencing homelessness in our community.
The Casa Maria free kitchen where Flagg and a small army of dedicated volunteers serve as many as 300 meals each day was busy even before the pandemic.
A few months after COVID-19 hit, as the Digging Deeper team first told you, the city started using federal CARES Act money to temporarily move some of the most vulnerable into hotels, and provide food, transportation, and other services.
“Our numbers went way down, and I wish it didn't take a pandemic for that to happen, because I think it's totally a real thing that can happen,” Flagg told the Digging Deeper team
But the hotel program ended last month, and with the federal eviction moratorium also set to run out at the end of this month, Flagg said he fears the impact on the most vulnerable in our community.
“People are gonna face lots of eviction, and rents are going to rise because of that. And it's impossible to buy a house in Pima County unless you have hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Flagg said.
Ward 6 Tucson City Council Member Steve Kozachik told the Digging Deeper Team that the city and county have received $30M in federal dollars to get people into housing, and $30M more is on the way.
“The goal is to get people housed, and with this housing situation the way it is, the housing market is exploding, and housing affordability is a big deal,“Kozachik said.
Councilmember Kozachik also said Tucson is not alone in trying to deal with the issue using limited local resources.
"This is typical of every major jurisdiction throughout the country. No local jurisdiction has the resources to handle homelessness on their own. It takes federal money,” Kozachik said.
The City of Tucson, along with Pima County, has had a plan to end homelessness in one form or another dating back to 2006.
Councilmember Kozachik tells the Digging Deeper team helping those experiencing homelessness, including veterans, victims of domestic violence, and the elderly along with people suffering serious mental illness is critical to dealing with the issue.
“The reality is that we're not going to end homelessness, but we can certainly keep it front and center chip away at it,” Kozachik told the Digging Deeper team.