Homes for the homeless: A Tempe initiative proves its worth

Timing relates to ruling by Supreme Court that bans sleeping outdoors

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Special report by Susie Steckner

EDITOR’S NOTE: A June 28 Supreme Court ruling upholding an Oregon ban on sleeping outdoors could alter how cities in the West address homelessness. As a result, this piece by city of Tempe communications staff member is especially timely.

It’s 9 a.m. on Saturday and another typical day comes to life outside Tempe’s shelter for people who are homeless. A train speeds past, a couple walks down the sidewalk, a car makes its way along a side street. Inside Room 117, a new life is taking shape. Keith Holmes is packed up and ready to move into his new, permanent home. He has a bike, three overstuffed bags, a few odds and ends – and a path forward.

The shelter offered a safe haven where Keith could make plans for the future, thanks to the Tempe Works program that connected him to a job and steady paycheck, by which city staff assisted him with his housing voucher to offset rent. All of these city-developed support programs helped Keith move from homeless to housed. Keith is one of about 1,675 people the city of Tempe has assisted with a housing resolution in the past two years.

Helping those experiencing homelessness was residents’ top priority in the 2023 Community Survey. Tempe invested $72 million last year on programs to assist unsheltered individuals and families, and to provide affordable housing options and other strategies to help keep people housed. These investments touch lives every day. A journey of just a few blocks changes Keith’s world. He slips his keys into the lock of his apartment and takes in his new home: a tidy one-bedroom, one-bath with a good-sized kitchen and back patio.

A smile stretches across his face. “This is way better than what I had before. It’s hard to believe I’m here,” he says.

Meeting community needs

Tempe’s long-held goal is to make homelessness rare, brief and one time. In the city’s 2023 community survey, residents said addressing homelessness was a top priority. Through significant investments and innovations, the city is meeting wide-ranging needs and helping more people like Keith off the streets and into housing.

Keith lost his job as a bus driver and then his apartment. He became homeless for several weeks. He connected with I-HELP, one of the city’s nonprofit shelter partners operated by Tempe Community Action Agency, and later transitioned to the city’s Sue’s Espacio bridge shelter. Tempe purchased the shelter, a 40-room motel, in 2021. The investment in a bridge shelter means residents in Tempe can move off the streets and plan for housing more quickly. Building on that success, the city is currently in the process of acquiring another motel that will open as a bridge shelter next year.

Tempe Works jobs program

A key step in Keith’s path forward was connecting with Tempe Works, the city’s jobs program for people who are unsheltered. Approved by the City Council in 2017, the program connects people with city jobs in areas like Solid Waste and Parks and also with private employment partners in Tempe.

Along the way, staff works with participants to locate shelter, housing and other resources that can help end their homelessness. Through Tempe Works, Keith landed a job in the city’s Solid Waste division. He works as a truck driver delivering new trash and recycling cans to residents across the city. Every day, Keith hops on light rail at 5 a.m. and heads to the station closest to work. Then he rides his bike the remaining five miles. At 2 p.m., his shift ends and he does the reverse to get home. He lost his car when he was on the streets and relies on light rail and his bike to get where he needs to go.

From homeless to housed

Every person experiencing homelessness has a unique story. Keith is no different. What is the same is the need for a comprehensive system of support to address all the complexities surrounding an unsheltered person or family. This includes not only the city of Tempe but nonprofits, faith groups and community organizations.

That system changed Keith’s life.

His new home is a half-mile down the road from the shelter and a world away from homelessness. The large apartment community features a hotel-like lobby with free coffee, gathering spaces, a pool and other amenities. A passionate cook, Keith was happy to see the stainless steel appliances in his new kitchen. He was thrilled to discover the in-unit washer and dryer, describing the half day it usually takes at the laundromat including the trip via light rail and bike. The icing on top? Move-in happened just in time to celebrate his 53rd birthday at his own home.

Today, Keith’s apartment is filled with the smells of his home-cooked soups and meals like roasted chicken and vegetables. And his future is filled with hope and a desire to help others.

“With my experiences with housing and the income from working for Tempe Solid Waste, I’ve been able to help others on their journey out of homelessness,” Keith said. “Purchasing bus passes occasionally, assisting with bicycle repairs, information I’ve gained to help guide others, such as what questions to ask and who to ask. “Being able to share experiences and small resources is fulfilling.”

Give help

There are many ways that people and organizations can help assist those who are unsheltered by working through existing, safe opportunities. Tempe’s goal is to make homelessness a rare, brief and one-time occurrence.

• Consider volunteering with the city’s HOPE homeless outreach team to help connect those in need to shelter and resources. Get details at EndingHomelessness.

• Volunteers are needed for the city’s summer Point-in-Time homeless street count July 17, from 6 a.m.-noon. Data collected help guide city decision-making about programs and services. Open to those ages 18 and older.

• The city’s CARE 7 crisis response team relies on volunteers for a range of assistance serving those in need. Get details at

• Become an employment partner with the city’s Tempe Works program to help unsheltered women and men connect to jobs. This life-changing program is a step toward helping people end their homelessness. Get information at TempeWorks.

• Tempe Community Action Agency operates the I-Help shelter and a food pantry. Learn how you can donate or volunteer at

• Aris Foundation hosts a weekly permitted gathering at Mountain Park Health, which brings together food and resources.

Get details at Learn more about Homeless Solutions at



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