By Taylor Brown, Editor In Chief
On Monday Sept. 12, 2022, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University hosted the Prescott Community Town Hall in the Jack R. Hunt Student Union Hangar. The Town Hall was open to the public, with the intent to discuss mental health, substance use, and homelessness in the community. People from throughout Yavapai County attended to discuss the most pertinent actions to take for the community.
Arizona Town Hall (ATH) is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that seeks to find solutions to community issues. According to the ATH website [https://aztownhall.org], “The meetings aim to educate the public about the challenges associated with mental health, substance use, and homelessness and to catalyze solutions that work for our diverse Arizona communities.”
The Town Hall was conducted by breaking the collective into seven groups. Each small group was sat at a table, with one conducted remotely via Zoom. There were four major discussion questions, and the tables discussed them individually and presented their findings to the room. Then, ATH President Tara Jackson would compile the group consensus and read it aloud.
Pat Norris, the Immediate Past Board Chair of AHT and the director of this event, stated, “What we’re looking for is consensus: it’s not a point that everyone agrees with but that most people agree with.”
Each discussion question appealed to all three issues at hand, aiming to avoid treating the topics as separate and unrelated.
“This conversation is not just about substance use, it is not just on mental health, and it is not just on homelessness,” Jackson stated, “This conversation and the background report is specifically looking at how these three areas are interconnected and how they relate to each other. By understanding that we have a much better chance of solving the problem.”
The first discussion question was as follows: “How do the conditions of mental health, substance use, and homelessness relate to each other? Why is it important to address these conditions together?”
After thorough deliberation, the group concluded that one cannot address an individual issue without addressing all three. From the recapitulation compiled by Jackson, the attendants decided that all these issues impact each other, as they are interconnected and often related. Struggling to find housing can lead to the exacerbation of mental health symptoms and substance use. Addressing mental wellness, addiction, and the housing crisis together is critical when attempting to make change.
Natalie Amadio, the Director of Youth Leadership and Employment Programs at the Launch Pad Teen Center stated, “I think the Human toll, allowing people to feel heard and cared about is the first step.”
The group was then asked: “How can we expand or create opportunities to address the conditions of mental health, substance use, and homelessness in an integrated way?”
Once each table had the chance to discuss, there was a collective consensus that stressed the importance of addressing stigma, as well as defining necessary actions the community should take. Community Medical Services’ Michael Varga told Horizons, “I cannot imagine anyone who is more than one step away from these issues, and directly affected.”
An important aspect of the second discussion were the challenges surrounding a “not in my backyard” thinking, or NIMBYism. NIMBYism encapsulates a community’s stigmatized perception of those struggling with substance use, mental health, and homelessness. Jackson stated in the group consensus that “NIMBYism is real and is a challenge we must address. We can combat NIMBYism, or the negative stigma attached to these conditions, by letting people realize that just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not here. It is here.”
To combat the negative stigmas attached to these issues, the group advocated for marketing and communication efforts. Although Yavapai County is home to a multitude of programs, organizations, and resources, there is a lack of health providers and affordable services for those struggling.
Regarding housing, Town Hall attendants discussed viable solutions. In 2019, approximately 63,000 Arizonans experienced homelessness. After the COVID-19 pandemic, the numbers increased. Yavapai County was not immune to the escalating housing crisis, and the group sought to address the issue within the county radius. A considerable talking point was the interest in creating a Housing Coalition for Yavapai County and exploring creative housing options such as tiny homes.
The general conclusion from the second question was the importance of community collaboration. To address mental health, substance use, and homelessness in an integrated manner the community must work in an integrated manner.
“We need to find ways to get people to resources, and to help them to be ready to receive the resources that are available,” Jackson recapitulated, “We should work together to better support people when they are in crisis. When people are in crisis, having community support can make all the difference.”
The third discussion question pertained to tangible actions the community can take to address the issues at hand. ATH asked: “What are the most important actions that should be taken to address the conditions of mental health, substance use, and homelessness in an integrated way?”
There are many actions the federal government, state officials, and community leaders can take to better Yavapai County. The group stressed the importance of collaboration, bringing organizations together alongside policy makers and other influential entities to have solution-based discussions on the necessary next steps. There was also the idea to incentivize collaboration through federal and state grant funding.
Something each table brought up was the need to make resources more centralized and available. In response there was the idea of creating a ‘one-stop shop’ for resources and information, potentially in the form of a webpage. Concentrating Yavapai County services and resources in one place would support community workers who help those suffering from a vast multitude of conditions.
The immediate need for affordable housing in Yavapai County was discussed again. The group encouraged housing for providers and professionals, as well as housing that includes ‘wrap-around services’ for people immediately out of treatment or recovering from homelessness. ‘Wrap-around services’ include group or halfway-homes for those recovering from addiction, and transportation or medical accommodations.
Increasing transportation services was another topic the group stressed. During the reading of the group consensus, Jackson stated, “Addressing transportation challenges includes offering transportation to needs or services and having more public transportation.”
Lastly, the group was asked: “If you could tell Arizona’s leaders just one thing about how to best address the conditions of mental health, substance use, and homelessness in an integrated way, what would you tell them? What one action would you ask them to take?”
Each table had multiple responses to this question. Some encouraged Arizona leaders to better fund county communities, while others asked for more solution-based discussions. Many highlighted the social stigma surrounding these issues, and hope state leaders pay closer attention to those in crisis.
A focal point of not only the fourth question, but the Town Hall as a whole was the importance of individual action and how that can improve an entire community. Jackson told Horizons, “When you are tackling the difficult, complicated, huge issues it can seem overwhelming. So, if you realize that you have the power to take just one action, that we all have the ability to do that, that’s how we come together to make change.”
The next ATH is statewide, from Nov. 14-16 in Tempe. The goal is to discuss these same three issues with communities throughout Ariz. To find more information about other ATH events, visit their website at [https://aztownhall.org/Upcoming_Town_hall].
In closing, Jackson told Horizons, “If you are a twelve-year-old student, if you are a prisoner inside a prison, or if you’re an elected leader like some that we had here, you all have the ability to create change based on what you learned. Realizing that allows us all to create better communities.”