ARIZONA NEWS

Report: Homelessness in Phoenix area up 12 percent from last year

Dec 17, 2018, 7:00 PM | Updated: 7:57 pm
(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)...
(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

PHOENIX — A federal report released Monday showed that homelessness in the Phoenix area is up 12 percent from the previous year.

The report found that 6,300 people are living on the streets in Phoenix, and about two-fifths of those people without homes are in shelters.

The region’s status as the fastest-growing county in the U.S., with 200 people a day moving in, is a factor in the rising homeless number, said Anne Scott, a human services planner who coordinates the count for the Maricopa Association of Governments.

“Some of those folks are not as successful as they hoped to be,” she said. “Housing prices are very high. Eviction rates are high. We see a lot of folks who are right on the edge who are slipping into homelessness.”

While Phoenix’s numbers worsened, some other Western cities saw a decrease in homelessness.

The number of people living on the streets in Los Angeles and San Diego, two epicenters of the homelessness crisis, fell this year, suggesting those cities’ efforts to combat the problem could be starting to pay off.

In Los Angeles, the count fell by 3 percent after a sharp increase the year before. Peter Lynn, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, said that can be credited to results of six months of stepped-up homeless services after Los Angeles County voters raised taxes to help in 2017.

Later that year, Los Angeles city voters approved a bond issue to provide more affordable housing – a factor Lynn said will start showing up in future counts.

“We’re also dealing with the countervailing pressure of housing markets that are pretty unforgiving,” he said.

Cities in California, Oregon and Washington have driven an overall spike in the number of homeless people nationwide in recent years. This year’s count continued that trend, showing 552,800 people without homes across the country, up by about 2,000 from 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s point-in-time tally. It was the second consecutive increase after seven straight years of declines.

The number of homeless referred to as unsheltered – those living in the streets, encampments or other open places – was more than 194,000 nationwide. That also was up from last year.

More than 37,000 of the unsheltered were in the Los Angeles area this year, down 2 percent from 2017.

San Diego, California’s second most populous city, also saw a decline in both total homelessness and those on the streets. After a hepatitis A outbreak spread among the homeless population and killed 20 people in 2017, the city turned to industrial-sized tents to house hundreds of people. As the tents went up, officials also cited people camping on downtown streets. Encampments downtown cleared out quickly, but the number along the San Diego River doubled.

The city is considering a ballot measure to raise money for affordable housing in 2020.

Nationwide, the overall increase this year was driven by a 2 percent rise in the unsheltered homeless population – those living in vehicles, tents and on the streets – along with 4,000 people in emergency shelters after hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters, according to HUD. The numbers of homeless veterans and families continued their long-term declines.

At a time when rents are rising faster than wages – especially for lower-income people – an essentially stagnant count is a not a bad sign, said Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

“Given what’s going on with rental housing, it’s not exactly good news. But it means communities are pushing back against the headwinds,” said Berg, who like other advocates urges caution about reading too much into one-year trends in the homeless count.

The homelessness data picture is incomplete because several West Coast areas with large populations, including San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, and California’s Orange County, did not conduct new counts of unsheltered homeless populations this year. Those places will do fresh surveys in early 2019.

Homelessness has exploded along with a soaring economy in several West Coast cities in recent years and has become a hot local political issue. From 2015 through last year, voters on the West Coast approved more than $8 billion in spending – most of it in tax increases – to address homelessness.

In Seattle, which has the nation’s largest homeless population outside New York or Los Angeles, the count this year rose to more than 12,000 – more than half of them unsheltered. The number was less than 9,000 just four years ago, and the city has been wrestling with what to do about the problem.

The City Council in May passed a $48 million tax on businesses to raise money for affordable housing. But under pressure from Amazon, Starbucks and other companies, it repealed it the next month.

New York also had a growing homeless population, with nearly 78,700 people counted – up by more than 2,000. But because of a robust shelter system there, fewer than 1 homeless person in 20 counted is living on the street. Still, like the cities on the West Coast, officials struggle with how to get homeless people permanent homes.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson said on a conference call with reporters Monday that no one should be declaring victory over homelessness despite decreases in certain cities.

“We still have a long way to go even though there’s been significant progress,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(Flickr Photo/Sebastiaan ter Burg)...
KTAR.com

Country music, dancing event at Glendale arena to raise funds for autism support

People can help set a world record while dancing to country music and support the local autism community at the same time during an event in March at Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale.
14 hours ago
(Facebook File Photo/Phoenix Police Department)...
KTAR.com

Human skull found at South Mountain Park being investigated as a homicide

Phoenix police said Saturday the case of a human skull being found at South Mountain Park is now being investigated as a homicide. 
14 hours ago
(Flickr Photo/Adam Jones)...
KTAR.com

Scottsdale police make arrest in recent Molotov cocktail incidents

Scottsdale police said Saturday an arrest has been made for the recent Molotov cocktail incidents after multiple cars were targeted this month.
14 hours ago
(Pexels Photo)...
Torrence Dunham

Arizona lawmaker sends letters to AG, Scottsdale officials about Rio Verde Foothills water issue

An Arizona lawmaker this week sent letters to Attorney General Kris Mayes and Scottsdale officials in an ongoing attempt to help find a solution to water being cut off from residents of Rio Verde Foothills.
14 hours ago
(Facebook Photo/Taste of the NFL)...
Alex Weiner

Taste of the NFL comes to Phoenix as Super Bowl’s largest culinary, philanthropic event

Taste of the NFL is an event ahead of the Super Bowl that will bring gourmet food, 30 chefs and live entertainment to the Valley on Feb. 11.
14 hours ago
John Mayer performs onstage during HFC's 10th Birthday Extravaganza hosted by Seth Rogen and Lauren...
KTAR.com

John Mayer hits road on solo acoustic tour with spring stop in Phoenix

Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter John Mayer is tuning up for his first solo acoustic tour, which will make a stop in Phoenix in the spring.
14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Pexels Photo)...

Sports gambling can be fun for adults, but it’s a dangerous game for children

While adults may find that sports gambling is a way to enhance the experience with more than just fandom on the line, it can be a dangerous proposition if children get involved in the activity.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
Report: Homelessness in Phoenix area up 12 percent from last year