More than 7,000 people experienced homelessness in Maricopa County on the night of Jan. 27, continuing a troubling upward trend, according to the Maricopa Association of Governments.
The newly released number from the Point in Time annual homeless count marks an increase of 11% over last year, rising to 7,419, according to MAG. Also, for the first time, the number of people on the street (3,767) surpassed the number of people in shelters (3,652). The unsheltered population grew by 18% compared with 2019.
“There is a steady increase in homelessness in Maricopa County, and with eviction rates being one of the highest in the nation, as well as shelter beds decreasing, our county is not keeping up with the impending crisis that is homelessness,” stated Tamara Wright, co-chair of Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care Board.
Her concerns are echoed by her board co-chair, Tempe Police Sgt. Rob Ferraro. He adds the count took place in January, well before the COVID-19 pandemic cost thousands of jobs.
“We fear that the economic impacts of COVID-19 will create an even greater crisis as people who lost livelihoods struggle to maintain housing,” Mr. Ferraro stated. “Well before the pandemic, the numbers continued to demonstrate the need for more affordable housing.”
The number of homeless people has risen steadily since 2015, with only one dip in 2017, according to a release.
MAG numbers show the homeless count increase in the Central (Phoenix), East Valley and West Valley regions. Phoenix counted 2,380 people experiencing homelessness, up from 2,030 in 2019.
Glendale had increased from 57 in 2017 to 194 in 2019, but saw a slight decline to 170 this year. Peoria more than tripled its homelessness count from 2017 to 2019 — 22 to 78 — but added five to its total in 2020.
Numbers for Sun City weren't available from 2017-2019, but MAG's count this year shows 12.
Mesa went from 130 in 2017 to 206 in 2019. The second largest city in the Valley then increased its count again in 2020 with 338 people experiencing homelessness.
Nearby Scottsdale went from 50 in 2017 to 102 in 2020, according to MAG.
“Homelessness is a regional challenge that requires a regional solution,” stated MAG Chair and Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers. “MAG is working with providers and actively fostering collaborations across the county to reduce these numbers. But this is going to take commitment and resources to address the growing trend.”
Other survey questions included how many people experiencing homelessness have pets. Over 230 said they do, including 35 service animals, according to the report.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Out of Reach 2020, $18.42 per hour is the wage needed to afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent in Maricopa County. Statewide, the rate is $16.97 per hour.
MAG coordinates the annual count of the homeless every January. Volunteers fan out across the region, searching streets, alleys, parks, riverbeds and doorways. In most cases, they can conduct surveys to get more detailed information about each individual. If the person chooses not to answer any questions, the individual is still counted. In 2020, the count was conducted entirely digitally through a cell phone app.
After the count, data are cross-checked for duplicates, updated and combined with the number of people in shelters. The numbers are then submitted to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for its nationwide Annual Homeless Report.