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Volunteer. Donate. Educate. DES and Community Partners Join Together in the Movement to End Hunger and Homelessness

November 13 through 21, 2021, marks Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, a national observance to highlight two of the most critical issues facing individuals and families, as well as the actions taken by organizations like DES and its community partners to provide vulnerable communities the help and support needed to alleviate hunger and housing insecurity. Though the causes behind these dire situations are varied and complex, the Department utilizes diverse strategies and strong partnerships with community programs to assist our neighbors and ensure they have food on their tables and a roof over their heads.

Coordinating Hunger Relief During the Pandemic

With food insecurity on the rise, DES has increased its investment in food distribution programs across the state by $2 million through June 2022; however, the pandemic created significant challenges in reaching those who need assistance, especially in our rural communities. Thinking creatively, our regional food banks established no-contact drive-through distribution centers and contracted with the online food delivery service, DoorDash. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 319 million pounds of food have been distributed. Through these strategies and increased state and local investments, our regional food bank partners are expanding access to food in an effort to alleviate hunger in our communities.

Combatting Homelessness

In collaboration with the three Continuums of Care (COCs) across the state, the Department also works to understand the complex issues leading to housing instability while developing equitable strategies to end homelessness in both our rural and urban communities. Since the start of the pandemic, DES has partnered with more than 60 local governments and nonprofits and invested over $22 million in emergency shelters, rapid rehousing programs, and homeless prevention services - an increase of more than 11 times pre-pandemic level investments. Using a housing-first approach, we find permanent housing for individuals and their families - but help doesn’t stop there. Because homelessness is often a result of other barriers that inhibit self-sufficiency, our partners also provide wrap-around services that connect individuals to education and training, employment support, and healthcare. Together, we are making a difference.

Preventing Homelessness through Emergency Rental Assistance

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 established a critical resource to prevent homelessness through rental assistance. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) offers rental and utility assistance to eligible Arizona renters impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible households may receive up to $3,500 per month in combined rent and utility assistance for a maximum of 18 months or a total of $63,000 in benefits paid. To date, DES has distributed over $24 million in rental and utility assistance to households in our service area. Maricopa, Yuma and Pima Counties and their local jurisdictions have similar rental assistance programs to ensure all eligible Arizona renters are able to help maintain their housing.

Innovating Within Our Community Programs

The demands of the pandemic and the additional federal and state funding and associated new programs have significantly changed our critical community services. Ensuring we have the capacity and necessary support in place to keep vulnerable adults safe, and connecting our community partners to our work, are both now more critical than ever. The Coordinated Hunger Relief Program and the Homeless Coordination Office were previously housed in the DES Division of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS), alongside many other aging and community-based programs. In order to better concentrate our resources and attention on these critical programs, the Department has created a new division. DAAS will continue to focus on aging services and adult protection, while the new division will focus on community-based services. This does not change the availability of services or how those services are delivered, but is an internal structural change in the way in which we are organized to maintain our proactive approach and continue managing our programs effectively. During the transition, we will work closely with our community partners to ensure they understand the need for this development and how it will benefit our relationships with them and our clients. The name of the new division will be announced at a later date.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the causes of food and housing insecurity, DES has been able to meet these new challenges thanks to the enduring collaborations with our community partners and support from the federal and state governments. Now we are well positioned to take the lessons learned and the innovations developed to continue to serve vulnerable individuals and families for the years to come. Thank you for being on this journey with us.

Michael Wisehart

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Food Distribution Sites for the Holidays

If you or someone you know needs food assistance this holiday season, please visit one of the following holiday food distribution sites listed below:

  • November 19: 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. - Western Navajo Nation Fairgrounds, US 160, Tuba City, AZ 86045
  • November 22 - 23: 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. - St. Mary’s Food Bank, 3131 W. Thomas Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85017
  • November 22 - 23: 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. - St. Mary’s Food Bank, 13050 W. Elm St, Surprise, AZ 85378
  • November 24: 8:00- a.m. - 11:00 a.m. - St. Mary’s Food Bank, 3131 W. Thomas Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85017
  • November 24: 8:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. - St. Mary’s Food Bank, 13050 W. Elm St, Surprise, AZ 85378