Federal report: Homelessness spikes in Arizona, rising 10 percent in 2018
After years of simmering, Arizona’s homelessness crisis boiled over in 2018, an annual report released this week by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows.
Fueled by rising rents, stagnant wages and deep cuts to housing services, this year’s tally of Arizonans experiencing homelessness rose by 10.3 percent, to 9,865, the report found. Only four states saw a larger increase.
“Here in Arizona, we’ve got the perfect storm. We’ve got the lack of investment and lack of services for homelessness,” said Darlene Newsom, CEO of UMOM New Day Centers, one of the state’s largest service providers. “It continues year after year, so it’s just going to climb.”
More than 40 percent of the homeless Arizonans counted in HUD’s report were unsheltered. Almost 900 were veterans. More than 600 were unaccompanied children.
HUD painted its report, the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, as a minor victory. A press release declared, “Homelessness in the U.S. remained largely unchanged in 2018.” The report found the nationwide count of people experiencing homelessness rose by 0.3 percent, to 552,830.
It was the second straight increase after seven consecutive years of decline.
Most of the growth came in the nation's suburbs. Homelessness in what HUD described as “largely suburban” areas grew by 2.9 percent last year.
In areas containing the nation’s 50 largest cities, homelessness fell by 0.9 percent.
But HUD's number is nearly a year late, and almost assuredly low.
The government’s official count comes from a one-night survey conducted by teams of volunteers, who fan across the state and tally every person they see.
The Point-In-Time Count, as it’s known, is meant to be a snapshot of homelessness, not a full accounting of it.
That leaves plenty of cracks for people to fall through. It’s impossible for a volunteer to find every person experiencing homelessness, especially in an open, sprawling place like Maricopa County. The count happens in January, when people flee cold-weather areas, leaving places like Payson and Flagstaff underrepresented, experts say. And it drastically undercounts families, who, advocates say, often stay with relatives or sleep in a car, and homeless children, who almost never end up on the street.
In a more complete view of Arizona homelessness, a 2017 report compiled by the state’s Department of Economic Security placed the number of people who experienced homelessness that year at 37,404.
The problems are growing faster than service providers can keep up. Federal, state and local housing programs are running at capacity. Emergency shelters are looking for ways to fit more people under their roof. The Family Housing Hub, which Maricopa County uses as a single entry point for all homeless families, has an 11-week wait list for shelter.
It’s an explosion local housing advocates have worried about since the Great Recession, when an affordable-housing crisis swept into Arizona just as homelessness funding started to slip away. The State Housing Trust Fund, which once received almost $40 million, was capped at $2.5 million. Service providers are now forced to fight over a small pot of money.
“I wish I had a new answer for you,” Arizona Housing Coalition Executive Director Joan Serviss said. “But it’s the same drumbeat we’ve been seeing for years now.”
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