(Photo by Steve Carr)
(Photo by Steve Carr)

As of March 24, over 1,000 people were camped out around the Human Services Campus. 

A new homeless shelter in downtown Phoenix will house up to 100 people overnight. 

The 6,300 square-foot shelter at Ninth Avenue and Jackson Street is named Respiro, Spanish for “respite.” 

“We want people to come into this space and feel like they can rest, like they can breathe,” Human Services Campus (HSC) Executive Director Amy Schwabenlender said at the opening. “That this is a calming environment, that’s not the chaos of living in a tent on the street.” 

The city of Phoenix funded the $1.6 million Sprung structure—which has the feel of a large, study tent—while HSC will provide staff and security. The shelter includes showers and restrooms and can be heated and air conditioned. 

(Photo by Steve Carr)

The nonprofit will focus on providing shelter in Respiro for two groups: highly vulnerable individuals, including seniors, domestic violence survivors, and those with medical issues; and people who are camped out in surrounding areas and are either accessing resources or have a housing voucher and still can’t find housing. 

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Richard Crews, HSC program director, said this shelter is for those who “typically get left out.” 

“Who are the individuals that we can find that are working with the navigators currently but [are] unsheltered around the streets,” he said. “They’re that close to being able to be housed.” 

Crews also noted Respiro will have earlier opening hours and later closing hours to make it easier on those staying there. 

Human Services Campus CEO Amy Schwabenlender and Program Director Richard Crews
(Photo by Steve Carr)

“They don’t have to choose whether I’m going to get a meal tonight or I’m going to have a place to sleep,” Crews said. “Because that’s a real situation that happens everyday where people have to pick, they’re like, ‘Am I going to get a meal at Andre House, or am I going to get a bed tonight because I know that I’m competing with 1,000 other people who are unsheltered?” 

As of April 4, the shelter was still undergoing inspections and not yet taking in clients, but is expected to begin doing so soon. 

A Widespread Problem

Crews said the affordable housing crisis in Phoenix has grown even more dire in the past few months. 

When conversations about Respiro began, he said there were about 250 people camped outside of HSC. 

On Dec. 28, they counted 555 people living outside. As of March 24, that number had already climbed to 1,017. 

The annual Maricopa Association of Governments survey showed more than 5,000 people in the county living on the streets when it was conducted Jan. 25. In 2014, that number was 1,053 people.

In Phoenix, the number the survey found rose from 771 in 2014 to 3,096 this year.

Phoenix Councilwoman Yassmin Ansari said Respiro is an “important investment” when it comes to facing this “massive crisis.” 

She said the City Council is currently deciding how to use its American Rescue Plan funding, with plans to allocate $20 million toward purchasing more specialized facilities for shelters like Respiro and $50 million toward broader affordable housing efforts. 

“People really are in crisis. People need our help,” Ansari said. “And we need to be doing everything we can this year to set ambitious deadlines for ourselves to get people off the streets into permanent solutions, into housing and with services.”

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