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Metro Phoenix sees 22% rise in people living without shelter over past year

(Pixabay Photo)

PHOENIX – The number of people living on the streets in metro Phoenix continues to rise, something one expert attributes in part to the lack of affordable housing options in the region.

There were 3,188 unsheltered homeless people in Maricopa County in January, an increase of 22% from a year earlier, according to data released Tuesday by the Maricopa Association of Governments.

“What that tells us is that more people are sleeping outside. … They’re in places not meant for human habitation,” Amy Schwabenlender, co-chair of the Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care Board and executive director of the Human Services Campus, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Tuesday.

“And they’re less safe, obviously, than people who would be in a shelter.”

The county’s Continuum of Care program, which works to end homelessness, conducts a one-day homeless count each year and reports it to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The 2019 tally was completed Jan. 21.

“We use this data to look at our local situation related to homelessness and use it to understand the root causes and to work on developing greater solutions,” Schwabenlender said.

She cited high eviction rates, a lack of affordable housing and increasing rental rates as key contributors to the rise in homelessness.

“I think all of those factors work against people who may have had the means previously to keep their housing, and then they have a crisis and lose their housing and it becomes really difficult to find the next affordable place to live,” she said.

Including those living in emergency shelters, transitional housing and safe haven programs, the region had 6,614 people experiencing homelessness in this year’s count, a 5% increase from 2018.

The number of unsheltered homeless has gone up six consecutive years. The sheltered homeless total has steadily declined over that period — it fell 7% to 3,426 over the past year — but not enough to offset the unsheltered increase.

In 2014, unsheltered people made up 18% of the area’s homeless population. That was up to 48% in 2019.

The tally included unsheltered pets for the first time this year, with 182 counted, including 10 service animals.

The data was submitted to Housing and Urban Development, which funds local Continuum of Care initiatives.

Schwabenlender said it will probably take a few months before a more detailed report is completed.

“Today’s release of information is really the first round of sharing the highest level data, and we have to go through a whole technical review process with HUD before we can further analyze and share more specifics around demographic, age, etc.,” she said.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Ali Vetnar contributed to this report.

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