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Homelessness Crisis in Arizona’s Maricopa County

The Point-In-Time Count is done every year by the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) to calculate the number of people experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County, Arizona. The report was recently released on Jan 23, 2024 for the 2023 year. There are a reported 9,642 people who experienced homelessness in the county in 2023, up from 9,026 in 2022. The results of the counts help determine funding and how to distribute money to programs in the area. 


As the population increases in Maricopa County, so does the homeless population. Here are some statistics that the Point-In-Time count produced:


Sheltered:




  • 49% of people experiencing homelessness are sheltered in emergency shelters, safe haven programs, or transitional housing




  • The most prominent age of people experiencing sheltered homelessness is between 25–64 years, with 62% being in this age range




  • The following age range is 0–17 years, at 22%




  • 43% of people experiencing homelessness who are sheltered are female, 57% are male




  • The majority of people experiencing homelessness who are sheltered based on race are white at 57%, followed by black at 32%




  • 27% are of Hispanic or Latino descent




Unsheltered:




  • 51% of people experiencing homelessness are unsheltered, living on the streets or anywhere not meant for living




  • The most prominent age of people experiencing homelessness is between 25–64 years, with 86% being in this age range




  • The following age range is 18–24 years, at 8%




  • 28% of people experiencing homelessness who are not sheltered are female, 71% are male




  • The majority of people experiencing homelessness who are sheltered based on race are white at 65%, followed by black at 24%




  • 27% are of Hispanic or Latino descent




Between 2020 and 2022, the homeless population across the country grew by less than 1%, while in Arizona it went up by 23%, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 


Phoenix was home to the nation’s largest homeless encampments, an unofficial open-air shelter known as ‘The Zone.’ The Zone was located in downtown Phoenix and was about 15 city blocks of tents, tarps, platforms, and other handmade shelters. The majority of people there were 25 and up, with some teens and families with children also living there. Over 1,000 people experiencing homelessness lived in The Zone. 


In August 2022, a lawsuit was filed by more than a dozen business owners and citizens in the city to dismantle The Zone. The lawsuit claimed that the encampment had become a public nuisance. After two court orders, Judge Scott Blaney ruled in favor of the lawsuit, ordering the City of Phoenix to clear out The Zone. Efforts began in the Spring of 2023 and had a deadline for it to be cleared by Nov 4, 2023. Programs had asked for an extension for cleaning up the 15 blocks until April 2024, but Judge Blaney denied this request. 


Throughout the months leading up to the deadline, 718 people were offered assistance to find shelters. Around 80% of those accepted a shelter placement. There was a $13 million campsite opened in a nearby empty lot with food, bathrooms, showers, and shaded tents for people who either didn’t want to or couldn’t move to an indoor shelter. It’s known as the Safe Outdoor Space and has a three year permit.


The operation to clear The Zone cost the city about $20 million. However, as The Zone was being cleared out, the region’s homeless population kept increasing. MAG reported that for every 10 homeless people getting into shelters in Maricopa County, 19 people are becoming homeless. 


The metro Phoenix area has also kept growing. The region gains about 150–200 new residents every day, which ends up putting a lot of pressure on the housing market. Phoenix has become one of the fastest growing cities, at a 1.9% growth rate in 2023. Since 2019, rent has gone up by 40%. Eviction levels have also increased over the years. In 2022, evictions were at 15,000 and increased to 83,236 in 2023.


The demand for shelters has increased due to the rising population and eviction notices. The state’s largest shelter for families experiencing homelessness is the United Methodist Outreach Ministries (UMOM), where demand has risen to an all-time high. Families are waiting up to eight weeks to get in the shelter. Since affordable housing is limited, it has also been more difficult for families to move out of the shelter, which in turn affects how long other families have to wait to get in. It is an issue across Maricopa County.Although many believe this was a step in the right direction, housing advocates state how this operation did not help fix the shortage of affordable housing, addiction treatment, or mental-health care. The Office of Homeless Solutions (OHS) dedicated $140 million ito homelessness solution programs in 2021, with funding being stretched into projects for 2024. In 2022-2023, the City of Phoenix has allocated 1,027 shelter beds for those experiencing homelessness. The city is expected to add 790 more beds between this year and next year.


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