Chandler’s Change Up program aims to break the cycle of homelessness

A woman experiencing homelessness stands near the exit ramp at Warner Road and Loop 101, hoping to get change from passing motorists. — Wrangler News photo by Joyce Coronel

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For motorists traversing our streets and freeway ramps, it’s an everyday occurrence to see men and women holding cardboard signs, begging for spare change.

Rory Minor has a message for big-hearted people seeking to alleviate the human pain they see etched on those lined and weathered faces on the street: Those few coins or dollar bills you share might help in the short run but they don’t fix the problem.

Minor, the special events and marketing coordinator for Chandler, points to the city’s Change Up Campaign initiated in November 2019.

“When people give out money on the streets, or the side of the road, it can buy someone a meal or transportation, like one bus pass basically,” Minor said. “But that person is still on that corner the next day, in need again.”

Giving to Change Up, however, results in a more fundamental and long-lasting difference.

“Our Change Up Campaign is focused on breaking that cycle,” Minor said. “We have a homeless navigator on our staff and her main focus—her only job—is to focus on giving people experiencing homelessness a path to take toward housing.”

The navigator assists people in getting important documents, such as birth certificates, and can get them a meal if that’s what they need in that moment. In some cases, she gets them a bus ticket back to their family in another state, or reconnects them with people they haven’t talked to or people they may have burned bridges with in the past.

Money raised in the Change up Campaign typically pays for things like a bus ticket or a night at a hotel while the navigator is waiting to get them into shelter.

“It’s the little bridge pieces that are missing and a lot of times that’s how they end up falling through the cracks,” Minor said. “They don’t have that support.”

Signs for the Change Up campaign are in city-owned parking lots at parks, libraries and the police station. Those who wish to participate can text Change Up to 44-321.

They will then receive a donation link via Google Pay, Apple Pay or credit card. It doesn’t take much to make a difference and participants can choose to give monthly. The average donation is actually pretty small, Minor says. She believes some users donate when they spot a person begging for change.

“You’ll see from the same person multiple donations, like a dollar on a Tuesday and then the next week, another dollar. Whenever they see someone is when it reminds them to give to the campaign.”

Donations are making a big difference, according to Minor.

“They are literally changing lives with the $5 they give, the $20 they give, or whatever it is,” Minor said. “People are going from being on the streets in the middle of their addictions to sober with their families and getting their kids back that are in the system. It’s amazing work that’s being done through this campaign.”

It’s amazing work that just might help a desperate woman like Stephanie.

On a chilly, rainy recent afternoon, Stephanie—she didn’t want to provide her last name—sits near the Warner Road exit just off Loop 101. Her cardboard sign states, “Lost everything. Trying not to lose my faith.”

Wearing a dirty white hoodie, her hair swept up into a bun atop her head, her piercing blue eyes peer over a mask. Thinking back to the day a man introduced her to heroin, she expresses regret.

“I lost three years of my life,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “I wish I’d never tried it.”

She says she tried to get clean but ended up being arrested and spending time in jail, facing felony charges.

Her mother got her into a detox program and she says she’s now been sober for eight months.

Through a prison-diversion program, she’s hoping to get back on her feet and able to support herself again. She says she was once a respiratory therapist.

These days, she’s homeless. With rain clouds threatening above, she sits beside two flimsy paper bags. As nighttime temperatures dip into the 30s and 40s, she says she has blankets but they are drying out today after being drenched by rain.

A man in a nearby Chandler neighborhood lets her sleep on his porch and do her laundry.

“He’s not creepy,” she says of the man.

A young couple in a dark blue mini-van pulls up and offers her some change and a smile. She thanks them profusely, then turns back.

Does your business serve South Tempe or West Chandler? Wrangler News/wranglernews.com advertisements get results! To purchase a print or online ad, dial 480-966-0837. Got a story idea or news tip? Give us a call at 480-966-0837.

 

Joyce Coronel
Joyce Coronel has been interviewing and writing stories since she was 12, and she’s got the scrapbooks to prove it. The mother of five grown sons and native of Arizona is passionate about local news and has been involved in media since 2002, coming aboard at Wrangler News in 2015. Joyce believes strongly that newspapers are a lifeline to an informed public and a means by which neighbors can build a sense of community—vitally important in today’s complex world.

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