Here’s what KTAR News learned from ‘Without a Home’ special series on homelessness in Valley

Jun 16, 2023, 11:51 AM

PHOENIX — KTAR News, through the “Without a Home” special series, spent the past week examining the homelessness problem in the Valley, what has caused it and what solutions are on the horizon.

Reporters, hosts, nonprofits, politicians and other experts told the stories of the evolution of homelessness in metro Phoenix.

Here’s what we learned:

Roots of metro Phoenix homelessness problem run deep

The issue of homelessness in metro Phoenix has been a fixture in local and national headlines recently, but the complex problem has been growing for some time.

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County increased by over 70% between 2017 and 2023, according to the point-in-time (PIT) census conducted by the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) once a year.

Katie Gentry, manager of MAG’s Regional Homelessness Program, pinpointed 2018 as a turning point.

“That is when kind of that buckling really started to occur of more people starting to experience homelessness at a faster rate,” Gentry said.

Arizona’s lack of affordable housing leaves some with nowhere to go

The growing number of people without a place to live is one of the biggest challenges facing Arizona.

Experts say that while multiple factors are contributing to the state’s homelessness problem, it all comes back to the lack of affordable housing.

Arizona State University economics professor Dennis Hoffman says this crisis could get worse before it levels out.

“Because of the cost of shelter, the cost of housing, the challenges so many folks face in trying to get by, you just have more and more people on the edge,” Hoffman said. “When I’m talking about people on the edge, they’re like one severe bill or one missed paycheck away from being on the street. It’s a sad situation.”

Valley youths experiencing homelessness face distinct hurdles

Benjamin Johnson is an 18-year-old Valley student-athlete who graduated from high school in May.

He ran cross country and received a scholarship to attend college and compete in the sport.

“I’m the only long-distance runner with asthma,” he joked.

That’s not the only thing that sets Ben apart. He’s also had to overcome homelessness, a hurdle for hundreds of young people in metro Phoenix.

Veterans serve others who served and now face homelessness

Chuck Ashby is the veterans outreach coordinator at Catholic Charities MANA House, an organization that provides support and transitional housing for those who served.

Ashby said it can be hard for some veterans to trust people who haven’t served in the military, even when they need help.

“It’s a sense of isolation from the rest of the country,” he said.

Success stories show difficulty of escaping homelessness in Valley

Homelessness can be difficult to escape, and fighting to reduce it requires the work of many professionals, government organizations, nonprofits and volunteers.

No one knows that better than Samantha Jackson. She’s the community engagement and development director for Valley of the Sun United Way – a nonprofit investor in Maricopa County.

“Really, what we are is connectors,” Jackson explained. “We’ve got incredible partnerships with shelters, organizations that provide rental and utility service, diversion, or help with transportation.”

KTAR News also hosted a pair of roundtables on homelessness in the Valley, which were moderated by KTAR’s Jayme West and ABC15’s Javier Soto.

The discussions included politicians, nonprofit leaders, city officials and KTAR News reporters.

Watch Wednesday’s roundtable here.

Watch Thursday’s roundtable here.

We want to hear from you.

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

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Here’s what KTAR News learned from ‘Without a Home’ special series on homelessness in Valley