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Area contingent will guide poverty relief effort

By: Doug Snover

Aug 26, 2006

Tempe isn’t all red tile roofs and three-car garages, the leaders of the Tempe Community Action Agency well know.

Even a community as seemingly affluent as Tempe has people in crisis--people with no place to sleep while most of the community rests comfortably at night.

As TCAA prepares to mark its 40th anniversary as the city’s social service crisis agency, executive director Beth Fiorenza and incoming board president Glen Reeves understand that a significant portion of Tempe’s population needs TCAA’s help.

“Tempe has one of the highest poverty rates in Maricopa County, believe it or not,” says Fiorenza, who took over as TCAA executive director almost three years ago.

With a poverty rate of about 14 percent, according to the 2000 Census, Tempe “is up there with most of the cities in the county, which is surprising to most people,” she said.

Reeves, who has about five years’ experience with TCAA and recently was elected president, thinks “homelessness is “one of the bigger issues in Tempe” and that providing affordable housing is one of the major challenges facing the city and TCAA.

Since 1966, TCAA has tried to help the area’s poor and elderly residents, offering rental and utility-bill assistance and hot meals to the city’s needy.

TCAA began as a neighborhood self-help project called “Operation Grassroots,” focusing on low-income neighborhoods in Victory Acres, north Tempe and south Scottsdale as part of the national initiative of the Economic Opportunity Act.

Its early years saw creative economic development initiatives such as a food buying cooperative, a community garden, a tortilla factory and a neighborhood credit union.

In 1971, TCAA was incorporated as a non-profit agency and moved its operations in to the original Escalante Center. TCAA’s Senior Action Program began with a senior center nutrition program at Escalante in 1975 and expanded to Concord in North Tempe in 1981, and to the Scottsdale Senior Center in 1989.

TCAA’s efforts increased as the agency recognized additional needs.

A Collaborative Health Program was initiated in 1990s through the work of community coalitions. Health promotion programs were initiated for the elderly in 1991 and then expanded to serve children and their families in 1996.

In 2000, a support program for at-risk pregnant women and their families was initiated.

TCAA’s Community Action Program focused on increased crisis invention services and self-sufficiency programs, while its Senior Action Program focused on helping Tempe and Scottsdale’s seniors remain independent, expanding the Home Delivered Meals Program, initiating Senior Peer Counseling, and adding new neighborhood outreach satellite senior center sites at Vista Del Camino (1998), Pyle Adult Center (1999), and Westside Center (2002).

In 1997, the Escalante Community Center was rebuilt by the city of Tempe, providing TCAA with expanded and enhanced facility space for services.

Reeves, a Kyrene Corridor resident who is a Salt River Project executive, said he was surprised by the wide range of needs and agencies that try to meet them.

One of his goals as TCAA president will be to try to coordinate TCAA’s services with other area social service providers “to get the greatest bang for the buck,” he said.

Reeves has kept an eye on TCAA’s “bucks” as the agency’s past treasurer. He said TCAA spent “about $1.5 million” in the past year, with much of that money going for hot meals that are either delivered to shut-ins or provided through area senior centers.

Fiorenza, also a Kyrene Corridor resident, said TCAA provides about 220 meals daily throughout Tempe and south Scottsdale.

Much of TCAA’s funding comes from the cities of Tempe and Scottsdale, and Maricopa County. Reeves said the agency also receives money from the United Way, a “modest” amount of grant funding from the private sector, and individual contributions.

TCAA is working to increase the number of private contributions that it receives, by mounting a campaign for donations that has been “modestly successful but improving,” Reeves said.

“We need help. We want their money. We need their volunteerism. We just need support in any way that we can get it,” he said.

He and Fiorenza agree that affordable housing is a rising concern in Tempe.

“The cost of living is rising in Tempe,” Fiorenza noted. More residents need housing assistance or help with their utility bills, she noted.

Reeves said he is not yet sure how involved the TCAA will become in providing affordable housing.

“It’s something that appears to be a need. We want to go into the issue with an open mind and figure out what’s best for the agency and the community,” he said.

That probably will lead to the TCAA working with other agencies to put roofs over people’s heads, he predicted.

Working with the TCAA, local church groups are using their own roofs to shelter homeless people, at least on weekends, Reeves and Fiorenza noted.

About six months ago, the TCAA initiated its I-HELP (Interfaith Homeless Emergency Lodging Program) that works with local church officials to shelter people and provide meals, Fiorenza said.

“We think of Tempe as an affluent community, but there’s a lot of poverty and a lot of need,” Reeves said. “There’s an ongoing need. To address those needs takes resources, but there are always more needs than resources.”

For more information about the Tempe Community Action Agency, visit


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