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Reporting on homelessness in Arizona

April 15, 2022

Community experts come together to discuss ASU report, find solutions

Almost 11,000 homeless people live in Arizona. Almost 2,000 of them have chronic substance abuse issues, and more than 1,700 are seriously mentally ill.

It’s an issue that affects local economies, public spaces, law enforcement and health care systems.

A panel discussion Thursday morning about homelessness featured speakers reflecting on a new report prepared by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

"Mental Health, Substance Use, and Homelessness" is the title of the report.

“You can’t really talk about one without talking about the others,” one participant said.

Mental health issues and substance abuse may surface even if they’re not the original cause of homelessness, simply as a result of being homeless, said Amy St. Peter, deputy executive director of the Maricopa Association of Governments.

It’s very difficult to rehouse someone after they’ve been on the streets, said Tom Simplot, director of the Arizona Department of Housing.

“AHCCCS is one of the largest housing providers in the state of Arizona,” Simplot said, referring to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state health care system.

The agency is focused on whole person care, said Shelli Silver, deputy director of health plan operations at AHCCCS.

“How do we work across systems?” St. Peter said. “How do we address these three issues in one integrated plan?”

The Superior Court of Maricopa County tries to bring an holistic approach, said commissioner Sarah Selzer.

If you are in a criminal proceeding and also in a mental health procedure, the court tries to work with a health care provider.

Are there differences in how mental health and substance abuse are handled by the courts?

“You can’t medicate someone into sobriety,” Selzer said.

Outreach has excellent results, St. Peter said.

‘“They don’t want help,’” she said. “We hear that over and over. But outreach teams are such experts at working with people to bring them in for care. ... I’d love to have more outreach teams across the state.”

The “us and them” mentality is “fundamentally damaging,” she said.

Selzer agreed.

“We’re all just a little bit of brain chemistry away from psychotic episodes,” she said. “If we could reduce the stigma, it would really change the approach.”

Homelessness in rural areas is often overlooked. Cities and towns are the primary target for federal and state resources, Simplot said. “It tells us we have work to do,” he said.

Data sharing between agencies and entities needs to improve, St. Peter said.

“The other lesson here came from the pandemic,” she said. “There was a silver lining to that. We got a lot better at working together. ... It would be great to figure out how to institutionalize this going forward.”

What does the Department of Housing do to address homelessness?

Convening and collaborating with service providers to learn where funding will do the most good, deputy director Silver said.

Is housing the place to start?

“People stabilize more quickly when they have housing,” St. Peter said. But housing with wraparound services is most effective, she added.

“Build more housing,” said Cindy Stotler, deputy director of the Arizona Department of Housing. ”We haven’t built public housing in years. ... We need all kinds of housing for people at all levels.”

The Morrison Institute is Arizona's premier public policy research organization.

Top image courtesy Pixabay

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News

Interplanetary Initiative Lab student worker lands job at Blue Origin

Mechanical engineering grad student will work as thermal engineer

April 15, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

When Interplanetary Initiative Lab student worker Matthew Adkins graduates from Arizona State University with his master's in mechanical engineering this semester, he’s moving on to an engineer’s dream job. ASU student worker Matthew Adkins working on a cubesat in a lab. After graduating with his master's in mechanical engineering this semester, ASU student Matthew Adkins will join aerospace company Blue Origin as a thermal analysis and management engineer. Download Full Image

Adkins will become a thermal analysis and management engineer for the Advanced Development Program at aerospace company Blue Origin.

Adkins began his grad program in 2020, and soon after started looking for a student job in an on-campus lab. He knew he wanted to work in aerospace after graduation, so the position as a “lifeguard” at the Interplanetary Initiative Lab (so-called because of their essential role in managing the lab) was a perfect fit.

He quickly became an indispensable part of the team and participated in projects for industry leaders like the ExoCam project, which he and other lifeguards worked on for NASA.

“The lab job is like a real job," Adkins said. "Every time I network with industry professionals, the response I get is that I’m already doing the work that a real-world full-time job would ask you to do as a thermal engineer.”

What he appreciates about the work he’s doing at the lab is that he sees every stage of the project, from concept to testing, all at a quick pace. That helps him better address the needs of the customer because he knows what issues they might face and can avoid them.

Soon, he’ll move on to Blue Origin, where he’ll work on projects like Orbital Reef, a NASA project whose academic sector ASU's Interplanetary Initiative is leading. The work he’ll be doing mirrors the work he’s doing for his thesis, which is doing a thermal analysis of the DORA CubeSat

“I’m really excited to be part of Blue Origin," Adkins said. "They talk about moving heavy industries into space, and I think it’s really cool to be part of the team that’s working towards that.”

Part of the interview process was a presentation made to a panel, during which he talked about his work at the Interplanetary Initiative Lab. When it comes to the relationship between his time at the lab and his new job, Adkins’ message is clear: “I got this job because of the opportunities I had at the lab.”

Students who would like to get involved or industry professionals looking to take advantage of the lab's facilities can reach out to

Sally Young

Senior Communications Specialist, Interplanetary Initiative