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Maricopa County’s annual homeless count showed uptick before pandemic

A large homeless encampment is shown Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, in Phoenix. Maricopa County officials said Wednesday there have been 490 cases of homeless people infected with the virus since the pandemic began among the county's approximately 7,400 homeless, with at least nine people self-identifying as homeless have died in Maricopa County. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — Maricopa County is experiencing an upward trend in homelessness that is expected to continue, according to a regional planning agency analyst.

The county has seen a 12% uptick over the last year, according to the 2020 point-in-time (PIT) count report released Monday.

Maricopa County’s homeless population has risen every year since 2015 except for a slight dip in 2017.

“On any given night, around 7,419 people experience homelessness in Maricopa County,” Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care Board co-Chair Tamara Wright told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“And for the first time, the number of street homeless surpassed the number of people in shelters. So what we have gathered from providers is this is from folks having an unsafe experience at shelters.”

Over the last year, the number of homeless living on the street has risen by 18%.

The PIT count is an annual street and shelter count used in order to determine the number of people experiencing homelessness at any given time in Maricopa County.

The regional count is in cooperation with the Maricopa Association of Government and took place on Jan. 27.

Wright said the delay for reporting the numbers comes down to accuracy.

“A lot of it has to do with just data quality and making sure that we have counted everything correctly and then doing some algorithms,” she said.

“Then we also want to double-check our shelter numbers, double-check with [the Department of Housing and Urban Development]. So it’s really just about making sure that what we’re sending out is extremely accurate and representative of what happened that morning.”

Wright said that there is a need for service and capacity across the entire spectrum.

Some of those needs include shelter beds, especially during the hottest summer in the history of metro Phoenix.

“It’s very hot right now when people are probably experiencing being very uncomfortable sleeping in tents,” she said.

“We do not have enough shelter beds to house everybody and that’s unfortunate. We also don’t have enough housing options.”

Wright cited the steady rise in rent prices across the county as a challenge for finding additional shelters for the growing homeless population.

She added that despite an eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people returning to homelessness continues to rise.

“That’s kind of a microcosm of what’s happening throughout the entire system,” Wright said.

“So I think it is probably going to increase here and we’re definitely trying to have a community plan around that.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Taylor Kinnerup contributed to this story.

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