Chris Spahle of Downtown Phoenix Inc. talks about working with the homeless in downtown Phoenix on Jan. 6, 2017. Mark Henle/azcentral.com
Street homelessness in Maricopa County has risen nearly 60 percent in two years, according to an annual one-night count of people staying in shelters and sleeping outside.
The Maricopa Association of Governments released Thursday the results of its 2017 “point-in-time” count. Communities across the country submit the data to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as a snapshot of their homeless populations.
On the morning of Jan. 24, volunteers and outreach workers documented 5,605 people experiencing homelessness overall in the county. That’s a 2 percent decrease from last year and in line with 2015 numbers.
Those numbers include people in shelters who are counted using a regional homeless management information system. Each community also coordinates a census of unsheltered people and conducts interviews with those they find who are not sleeping, said Anne Scott, a human services planner for the Maricopa Association of Governments.
Reaching a 5-year high
The number of homeless people who were unsheltered increased about 25 percent over last year. And the count of 2,059 is up nearly 60 percent from two years ago.
Unsheltered people as a percentage of the county’s total homeless population is at a five-year high, based on the count.
The increase supports concerns of service agencies and residents in recent months throughout the Valley that more people are sleeping in places like bus stops and alleys, or outside the central hub of homeless providers near downtown Phoenix.
The data, though, has limitations for drawing conclusions about Maricopa County’s homeless population. Factors like weather can affect shelter and street counts from year to year, for example.
Regionally, more volunteers helped with the unsheltered count this year, according to a report from the Maricopa Association of Governments. Homeless families and youth were a particular focus this year, it said.
Also, improved methodology and more experienced outreach workers this year helped the county find more people staying outside, Chandler Vice Mayor Kevin Hartke, co-chair of the Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care Board, noted in a press release.
He also cited a growing population and a lack of affordable housing as potential contributors to the rise in street homelessness.
Members of the continuum of care board encouraged people to donate money or supplies like water, toiletries, school supplies and diapers to agencies that providing housing solutions.
The count also found:
- 1,746 sheltered singles, a decrease of 9 percent from last year.
- 133 unsheltered single youth, a 28 percent increase from last year.
- 495 homeless family households, a 21 percent decrease from last year.
- 489 homeless veterans, a 9 percent increase from last year.
- 939 chronically homeless people, a 26 percent increase from last year.
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