Wendy Johnson, Executive Director of the Justa Center
Phoenix, Maricopa County
Awarded the Aging Services Stars in Arizona Award for Change Agent.
“Wendy Johnson, Executive Director of Justa Center is an extraordinary change agent tackling homelessness among seniors in Maricopa County. Our communities are at a crossroads in the elder homeless crisis that will be exacerbated by looming evictions, COVID-19, and the aging of our nation. Nearly 25% of Maricopa County residents are over the age of 55. For those seniors between age 55 and 64, there is no safety net of resources or programs that will assist them should they lose their housing. Justa Center has been a vanguard in this area since 2006, long before Maricopa County even realized this would become a crisis. Wendy joined Justa Center as it’s Executive Director in 2019. In that year alone Justa Center worked with 1,230 seniors experiencing homelessness. As a resource and day-center, Justa Center represents a safe-harbor where individuals are free from social harm, from violence, from judgement, and from the pressures of living on the street every day… Wendy organized and mobilized grants, in-kind donations, and a team of volunteer-ambassadors to re-establish Justa Center’s Extended Care Program, with great success. This program specifically addresses the number of seniors returning to homelessness after finding housing, by assessing their ability to age in place, especially where mental health, physical health, addiction, or other outside pressures may trigger a return to homelessness. In 2020, Wendy and her staff faced and responded to many challenges due to COVID-19 and its effects, like increased 1st-time homelessness; record number of COVID-related deaths; return to homeless despite the eviction moratorium; long wait lists for those few with housing vouchers; and the lack of a sustainable plan to address heat relief during the summer months. Wendy has been very inventive and creative with a small staff and limited financial resources, but with great volunteers and supporters who have helped achieve real outcomes – safe and secure housing. Senior homelessness is a tragic problem in our community; senior homelessness is a problem our community can solve particularly with change agents like Justa Center Executive Director Wendy Johnson. It is my pleasure to nominate Wendy as an Aging Services Star in Arizona.”
Nominated by Robbin Coulon