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Opinion: Could addiction be the cause of Phoenix’s rising homeless numbers?

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

I don’t know if you noticed, but there are more homeless people on the streets of the Valley.

I’m not just saying that because I’m seeing more people collecting change on street corners and at freeway off-ramps, but also because of newly-released statistics from the Maricopa Association of Governments.

Those stats show that the number of homeless people not staying in shelters has increased by 27 percent in the past year.

Back in January, volunteers spent days on the streets of the Phoenix area talking to the homeless, recording demographics, asking how long they had been homeless and about their health.

And according to the 2018 Point-in-Time homeless count, there are 2,618 more people experiencing what’s called unsheltered homelessness here — a big jump from the year before.

So, why the change?

I have a clue that, at least in part, it’s something that seems to be on everybody’s lips these days: Addiction.

There are many factors that play a part in homelessness. If you ask 100 people how they ended up and why they remain on the street, you’ll probably hear 100 different stories.

Mental health issues have sent many people into the cold, cruel world of homelessness and kept them there.

So has the “being one paycheck away from…” scenario.

If you miss a paycheck, you miss a few car payments, your car goes missing, your boss misses you at work and you miss out on being able to pay for a place to live. 

But I believe that addiction plays a huge part in the staggering numbers of homelessness. At least, a much bigger part than I used to believe it did.

Since I got sober a few years ago, I have met tons of people who went from being homeless to being homeowners. Others who went from being unemployed to actually becoming employers. Transformed people who went from hiding in the shadows to finding their spotlight.

These are the kind of stories that make you want to stand up and cheer.

But none of it happened for them until they were able to get the drugs and alcohol out of their system.

If we look specifically at the number I mentioned at the beginning, tying addiction to at least some of this increase makes a lot of sense. Remember, MAG identified a 27 percent increase in the number of homeless not staying in shelters.

While there are a limited number of available shelter beds, it’s not a stretch to imagine that people who are living in their addiction would choose the street over a shelter — because you can’t use drugs or drink booze in a shelter (or at least it’s much harder to do so).

It’s also not a stretch to think that if I hadn’t asked for help for my alcoholism, which I continue to get, that I would be holding a sign on a street corner, doing a radio show in my head.

(Although, I like to think my sign would be really clever.)

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