Tempe count shows homelessness rising

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Volunteers in Tempe set out to count individuals experiencing homelessness across the city.

By Wrangler News Staff

The number of individuals in Tempe experiencing homelessness rose from 276 in 2018 to 373 in 2019, according to data gathered during last January’s Point-in-Time count held throughout the region. A new effort undertaken by the city of Tempe last month aims to sharpen understanding of the numbers on a deeper, city-wide level.

Dozens of volunteers and city of Tempe staff spent the morning of Friday, June 28, counting the homeless individuals during the city’s first-ever summer Point-in-Time Homeless Count.

The effort mirrors the annual Department of Housing and Urban Development’s mandated Point-in-Time count held each January in communities across the region and will give Tempe a snapshot of the number of people who are homeless during both the winter and summer.

Information collected during the two counts enhances the city’s understanding about needs in the community and could help determine how resources are allocated during different times of the year, said Nichole Stevens, the city’s homeless solutions supervisor.

“We want to ensure that we have the most accurate and timely information possible to best meet the needs of individuals and families experiencing homelessness, as well as the needs of the broader community,” she said.

Thirty-five volunteers and city staff members spread out around the city for five hours to count people on the street, in parks, under bridges and at a mobile shower site.

They used a mobile app to streamline the survey process, asking a range of questions that provide important information, such as whether a person is a military veteran.

They tracked individuals with pets, which is key to finding solutions for someone who might be hesitant to access a shelter or other services where pets aren’t allowed.

Volunteers counted both individuals and families like Elige, his wife Lana and their adult son Doug. The family lost their $45-a-night hotel room, which was affordable with their collective income until the rate increased.

Doug, 24, said he quit his job because the hours and long bus rides each way meant time away from helping his parents maneuver the streets.

He plans to work again but now is focused on surviving the heat. Homeless for at least three months, the family carts around their only remaining belongings and finds shade, water and ice where they can.

“People don’t realize this can happen just overnight. If you don’t have a lot of money, but enough, and then something happens, you’re here,” said Elige, 64, who has difficulty walking.

As volunteers and city staff surveyed people, they offered information about resources, such as what type of housing Elige might qualify for because of his disability or where the family could immediately get food stamps.

The January count helps the city gain valuable data about Tempe’s homeless population, said Vice Mayor Lauren Kuby, who regularly participates in the process.

“But our human services staff, the most innovative in the Valley, knows that populations and needs shift from season to season. There is no one-size-fits-all approach,” she said.

“With a summertime P-I-T count, we will better understand the demographics of the people we serve and will use that data to invest our resources more wisely.”

According to the count taken in January, Maricopa County as a whole showed 6,614 people experiencing homelessness, an increase over 2018.

Information: tempe.gov/endinghomelessness

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