Three years after the launch of the McQuaid Mission and at the end of the first season of It Happens at STN, Human Services Campus CEO Amy Schwabenlender and UMOM CEO Jackson Fonder sit down to talk about the progress being made in addressing systemic homelessness and how best to continue combating the growing problem in the greater-Phoenix area.
In addition to a frank discussion about the current housing situation, Schwabenlender and Fonder talk about how their relationship with STN is helping each of their organizations push actionable solutions and what they say are the real keys to making real progress.
CEO – Human Services Campus
CEO – UMOM
In the Beginning
The first episode, it was COVID and we were all spaced apart. I didn’t know you and I was like, ‘why does this guy want me here talking about homelessness’ and ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’ We had people zooming in. Congressman (Greg) Stanton Zoomed in. Mike McQuaid Jr. Zoomed in to talk about the launch of the McQuaid mission, which has given us not only a space to honor and memorialize Mike McQuaid (co-founder of the Human Services Campus), [a] passionate champion for ending homelessness.
So then I think about what would he be saying today, three years into this conversation. Because whenever I get to speak about the Human Services Campus, I think [about] what would Mike say.
I think today he would be saying, “Wow, this is amazing.”
It’s such a journey we’ve been on with how the show evolved. We started out talking to individual partners and we’ve elevated the conversation to systems pieces, what is working and what’s a positive replicable part of a strategy. That’s a tremendous amount of progress in a short amount of time. So I think [Mike] would be super proud and jazzed about this whole thing.
You and the STN crew, you’ve evolved the show. This production has become this unique opportunity for so many people to come in here, not just about housing and homelessness, [but] all the other community topics that we now know are important to so many people who want to be part of solutions.
We’ve seen fortunately a lot more community conversation groups meeting and setting up committees to talk about housing. And we absolutely need more housing. We’re so far behind on housing creation. I don’t know how we catch up. We will never catch up if we don’t do more on prevention and having services for people who are already experiencing homelessness.
Homelessness now is visible across Maricopa County and that wasn’t the case three years ago. We still had a lot of homelessness and it was slowly increasing. Now it is, it is visible. It is a conversation, locally and nationally.
Pushing for Prevention
What’s not so visible is: How we do prevention. We’re talking about people who already have a home and how do we help them stay housed. Prevention is a really challenging concept for people to understand and grasp. We don’t realize something’s a problem until it’s too late.
The same thing is true with housing, if we’re not helping people stay housed and they lose their housing. All of the organizations in the Valley that are providing services to people experiencing homelessness are doing the best they can with the resources they have. And we’re always asking for more.
Now that we have 800 people around the [Human Services] Campus and lots of efforts to address that number of people. We still have to have a prevention and a housing conversation. Otherwise, we’re going to repeat this journey we’re on right now again. I can promise it will happen again because we’re shuffling people to other places. We’re not ending their homelessness and we’re not doing enough to prevent more people from falling into homelessness.
Join the Effort
Anybody who wants to help address homelessness and create more housing and prevention can do so. Pick one thing and do it. And please don’t start something new that’s already being done. Join efforts that already exist rather than creating something new.
Everyone who does housing knows how to do housing. We actually know how prevention works as well. We know how to deliver all the services in the middle. It’s not about necessarily new ideas and new nonprofits and new committees. It’s how do we pull everyone together and look at what’s already happening and have this collective vision that we can get to functional zero.
Year in Review
Look at this room here today. If this is just a snapshot of the whole year, you’ve got to count yourself pretty blessed and lucky that people are showing up. You’re putting the right product and conversations in front of them. We’re constantly talking about solutions and actions.
I’ve lived in this community three different times. Once in the 1980s and remembering what homelessness looked like in the 2000s. Then I left for 10 [years] and now I’m back in the 2020s. The optics now around this grand issue of homelessness is larger than we’ve ever seen it. It’s a wake-up call for sure.
At UMOM. We really believe that jobs plus housing are what end homelessness. In the audience today, we’ve got a lot of people who have their own companies, [or] they’re working for great companies. They’re looking for great people. I want people to seriously consider hiring folks with lived experience. It is tremendous.
We hire folks at UMOM all the time with lived experience and I talk about them all the time because it’s just joyful and I appreciate what they bring to the table. The whole idea of homelessness doesn’t define who they are. It’s not a part of them. It’s just, they’re experiencing it. These are talented smart folks who have a blip in their circumstance and they need a hand up.
We just hired somebody recently and I had a great conversation with her in the lobby. She didn’t know who I was and I didn’t know who she was. It was just a phenomenal conversation. I saw her an hour later at new employee orientation and she looked surprised. I looked at her and I was surprised and I was even more surprised when I found out [that] 15 years ago, she was a child at UMOM. That’s good stuff.