If there seem to be more homeless people inhabiting city streets, including those refusing to abandon their companion pets, it’s not just a perception.
Officials say they anticipate the count of both humans and pets will have increased significantly from a 2018 study, and are expanding their efforts this year to make sure both 2- and 4-legged victims of homelessness are included in an upcoming count.
Again this year, Tempe and Chandler will be among cities participating in a regional point- in-time survey to help determine the number experiencing homelessness. This time, the one-day study will equip volunteers with a mobile app to streamline their enumeration process, an approach planners say is designed to help ensure accuracy and offer real-time data.
Along with the number of people counted, the volunteers will also identify those with pets who may be hesitant to go into shelter temporarily and risk being separated from their animals.
The one-day count will take place in Tempe, Chandler and cities across Maricopa County. The study, according to officials, is critical to a regional effort toward ending homelessness. Data collected helps cities and the region better understand issues surrounding homelessness, identify trends and solutions, and direct funding and services to assist those in need.
Last year, the study identified 6,298 people experiencing homelessness in the region, according to the Maricopa Association of Governments, which leads the regional effort. That compared with 5,605 the previous year, representing a 12 percent increase.
In Tempe, volunteers counted 276 individuals in 2018, up from 202 the previous year. This year, 50 volunteers divided into small teams will be counting individuals across the city from roughly 7 a.m. to noon on Tuesday, Jan. 22.
In conducting the count, Tempe is eliminating paper questionnaires in favor of the more efficient mobile app.
“By using the app, we can streamline the counting process, eliminate the possibility of human errors and quickly access information as it comes in,” said Kelly Denman,
homeless outreach specialist with Tempe’s HOPE team.
Counting individuals with pets, one of the features available in the app, is key to helping the city better understand why an individual might remain unsheltered and then identify solutions.
Shelters do not accept pets, but the HOPE team or police officers can work with Tempe-based nonprofit Lost Our Home Pet Rescue to offer a temporary place for pets to stay.
Once individuals find permanent housing, they can be reunited with their animals.
“At Lost Our Home Pet Rescue, we believe that people should not have to choose between helping themselves and helping their pets,” said Vanessa Cornwall, the organization’s marketing and development manager.
“Through our Temporary Care Program, we provide up to 90 days of pet care for individuals and families experiencing a life crisis such as homelessness or domestic violence. Our program makes it possible for people in crisis to get the help they need, regain stability in their lives and reunite with their beloved pets.”
As volunteers count, they will distribute information about local and regional services and the upcoming Maricopa County StandDown event for homeless veterans, as well as feminine hygiene products donated by Women4Women Tempe, packs of toiletries and snacks.
Individuals with pets will receive backpacks filled with pet supplies donated by the Arizona Animal Welfare League and dog food donated by Lost Our Home.
In Chandler, 40 volunteers will span out citywide to reach out and identify those experiencing homelessness. Hygiene kits will be provided along with a resource guide with information about the different services available.
Earlier this year, Chandler launched the ChangeUp campaign to educate the community about giving responsibly to help end homelessness. Residents can donate their “spare change” by texting ‘ChangeUp’ to 44-321. All proceeds go directly to programs that benefit the homeless community and offer long-term solutions to the issue.
Officials representing Tempe say their city also is determined to end homelessness through a wide range of support and solutions.
To do this, Tempe takes a coordinated approach that includes multiple city departments and regional partners. The City Council has directed additional funding to this effort and pursues policy-related solutions.
According to planners, homelessness is a challenging, multifaceted, national issue that impacts many cities. Mental and physical health, poverty, past trauma and drug addiction make assisting individuals and families a complicated endeavor, they say. Ending homelessness takes patience, compassion and commitment.