As annual homeless count nears, federal report shows Arizona’s population has grown by 23%

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – Experts say high inflation rates and a sharp increase in the cost of housing are just part of what’s pushing some Arizonans into homelessness.

As the Maricopa Association of Governments plans the annual Point-in-Time Homeless Count for January, new numbers show the homeless community is growing in Arizona. According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, our state’s homeless population grew by 23.4% from 2020 to 2022. Nationally it went up about 1%.

It also estimates 13,553 people were homeless in Arizona in 2022, with 59.2% unsheltered. You can read the full report here.

This comes as hundreds of volunteers are getting ready for the annual homeless count in Maricopa County on Tuesday, January 24th at 5 am Volunteers will fan across the area and physically count the number of people they meet who are experiencing homelessness. It is a federal requirement to get federal funds to help those who are homeless, organizers say.

Volunteers will also be asking questions trying to figure who who people are, their ages, demographics, how long they have been unsheltered, etc. There is an app for the information, making it a paperless count. Data will be collected in real time. It will then be analyzed and a full report should be released in April.

Kelli Williams, the director of the human services division of the Maricopa Association of Governments, says this comes at a time when new folks in our community are becoming homeless for the first time.

“We’re living in interesting economic times for sure,” Williams recently told Arizona’s Family. “And unfortunately we are seeing a rise in homelessness both of individuals and also families. We have a lot of families right now who are living in cars with their children and trying to keep their children in school. And trying to keep their jobs while they are living out of a vehicle or in some other unsheltered environment.”

Williams says for the first time more older adults who are on fixed incomes are also getting priced out of homes.

“I think there are misconceptions that individuals who are experiencing are all using substances or they are lazy and don’t want to work. Or perhaps they have a behavioral health diagnosis and they need to be seeking mental health services,” Williams said. “That’s not to say there aren’t individuals that do need mental health services, but what we are also seeing is a lot of working poor families and working poor individuals who simply can’t find a place to live with the amount of money they are earning.”

What’s the solution? Williams says that includes more access to affordable housing, higher paying jobs, and more access to behavioral health services.

About 1,500 people who have already signed up to help in the count. Last year it was about 500. Williams thinks this is a testament to how many people are now touched by this issue and want to help. They are always still looking for more volunteers.

Here’s more information on how to contact a coordinator to sign up.

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