A new report on the unsheltered homeless population of Phoenix, AZ, came out this week and one of the most significant things they found was that they need to listen to the real stories of the people on the streets to combat the problem with real solutions.
The opening paragraph says:
“Some homeless people don’t want to be helped.
They would rather sleep outside than in a
These statements are frequently used to describe people experiencing homelessness. Many individuals labeled “service resistant” are perceived to be sleeping outside because they want to. We were interested in learning more about the people sleeping on the streets (i.e. the “unsheltered” population). Why do they appear to be resistant to available services? Do they encounter barriers to sleeping in shelters and accessing other services? Rather than imposing our own logic on this population, we interviewed 100 people who are sleeping in Phoenix parks, alleys, lots and streets. We hoped that listening to people who are unsheltered would provide us with a greater understanding of how they could be sheltered in a way that more effectively benefits them and our community.
A few days ago, NBC posted an article by Alicia Victoria about the rise of homeless people in California. She discussed growing numbers all over Los Angeles County, not just in the City of Los Angeles. Santa Monica talks of the draw of the ocean landscape for those experiencing homelessness.
From 2016 to 2019, unsheltered homelessness in the Maricopa County region increased by 94%. In the Central subregion (Phoenix), the growth rate in unsheltered homelessness was 64%. In the East Valley, unsheltered homelessness increased by 167% and in the West Valley, it went up by 213%.
The Point in Time count is done every year throughout the country on a particular night in January. The official definition is
The Point-in-Time (PIT) Homeless Count is an annual street and shelter count to determine the number of people experiencing homelessness in certain cities and metropolitan regions throughout the country during a given point in time. (which is one multi-agency coordinated night in January)
A common complaint about this count is that the number of people that they come up with is missing a significant portion of people who could just not be found and/or counted at that point in time. Further research shows the reporting agencies do take this assumption into consideration and compile their numbers with input from multiple agencies, shelters, community resources and the HRMIS (that’s a whole other topic).
The final number is a compilation of actual counts and reports from specific agencies.
According to the 2019 Point-in-Time Count for Maricopa County, there were 6,614 people experiencing homelessness on the night of January 21, 2019.
48% were unsheltered or sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation.
Almost entirely absent from public discourse is the issue of capacity.
Critical to our understanding of why people are sleeping outside is the recognition that for a large number of people, there are simply no beds available.
This post has been sitting in my draft folder for 22 hours unfinished because I really couldn’t decide what my opinion on the PIT count is. I realize you don’t read this paper to find out my personal opinion, however; having an opinion does tend to color even purely factual, technical writing and I want to clearly see that color in myself.
BUT look what I found in my Twitter in-box…….It appears that I am not the only one to have questions about the numbers or accuracy of the count. And Phoenix / AZ isn’t the only place suffering exponential growth beyond its capabilities.
The major concern isn’t as much, “Is the number they come up with an accurate one by one count?” The real concern is so much more about, “Is this number an accurate representation of the number of people living without shelter intended for living purposes, and what services do they need?”
These numbers are used to compare this year to other years, this city to that city, state, county, neighborhood, etc., etc.. It is this number of total homeless that disbursement of funding is based on, it is this number that numerous writers will reference until new data comes out. If the number is not accurate, how far off is it? Is it double what they count? triple? half? I have decided that what really matters is “How this number compares to those collected in a similar way on a similar day, in similar places. What story does this comparison number tell about the success of current programs in place?
Another Sobering Set of Numbers…
As the 2019 PIT Count showed, there was a significant increase in the number of unhoused and unsheltered. What you have to look for is that this number has tripled since 2016. This is what is jumps out to me. I would say that is the most relevant fact of the whole report. Secondly, is that the number of homeless sleeping in a shelter has dropped. Not both numbers increased, no we have 3x’s as many people need shelter and we have hundreds of fewer places to put them.
3x’s as many people have lost their home, due to circumstances beyond their control, in the last 3 years. That is a significant increase and this increase is not unusual, most every city, county, and state is seeing phenomenal growth in the number of homeless they are struggling to serve.
When is this number going to reach a level that calls for a national state of emergency? What can we do to stop thousands of new people being added to those already suffering homelessness? What can we do to return these people to jobs, homes, families, and more that they once had?
Every single one of those numbers in the report represents a different story, a different individual whose life was drastically changed due to circumstances beyond their control. You can read a couple of these stories right here on our website That Water Chick and Julian
So as we prepare for the PIT count here in Phoenix in the next couple of days, I believe we must share our knowledge of why this count is done and what the numbers represent. I hope to encourage more people to be found, to be counted and included in this flawed but necessary effort.
I would really love to know how my peers feel about this report, it’s accuracy, relevance, and necessity. Leave your comments below and let’s open up the discussion to other perspectives.
The Street Fairy’s thoughts on a recent Canadian Study into the Housing First Model
I have heard about the Housing First in San Diego a few years ago, they were beginning this model of supplying housing to homeless veterans and a few county programs first, before connecting them to any other support services like Drug Rehabilitation or Recovery Programs, or Mental Health Services with the thinking that drugs and/or lack of medications were creating additional barriers to successfully receiving services.
I remember this because there was significant pushback from the community at large questioning those in charge of spending their tax dollars. There was a public outcry that San Diego County was now offering free housing to drug addicts, dealers and other criminals.
Obviously that is not what county officials were doing but that was the public perception and I remember it having an impact on local elections in the form of attack ads.
The idea is to offer a subsidized housing program without all the conditions that usually go along with those programs but to provide intensive support services after they were housed. There are many hoops to jump through, in a particular order and each program has different hoops, different expectations, and different results.
The Housing First model tries to postpone these barriers and focus on getting keys first. If you are homeless, let’s get you a roof and a door first, then we will have you jump through these hoops and if you don’t comply we will just drop you from the program and you can return to the streets. It seemed to make sense to many and ludicrous to others. But forward it went, and now Canada has studied its outcomes.
This article states that the study had a control group where the participants were offered traditional services and would compare it to the Housing First participants. This is very unsettling for me. I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that a study requires a certain number of people to suffer without said program in order to study its effectiveness.
I wonder if I had gone to college would I be able to understand this line of thinking. I wonder how I would feel if I found out that this program was handing out keys and the girl in front of me got the keys and then was offered a whole slew of resources to help her keep it and I didn’t because I am in the control group. I got a list of hoops I had to jump through with absolutely no support or resources to tackle that list. For me, this would create a whole lot of anxiety, depression, stress, confusion, and a myriad of other emotions that I am already known to not manage very well.
The other thing I wanted to discuss about this article is the obvious.
Mentally ill homeless adults may have an easier time finding and keeping stable housing when they receive rent supplements and mental health support services, a Canadian study suggests.
Why would it take a group of Canadian Researchers, a boat load of money, a forest of paperwork, and six years to determine that those who got housing and intense support did better than those who had to stay on the streets, unmedicated, untreated with unmet needs. I don’t even have a bachelor’s degree and I can tell you this. I understand that my opinion is not proven fact and that these programs need to be studied to prove their efficacy but couldn’t they have come up with a harder fact to determine?
One of the problems I would like to study is why so many who get housing, lose it in the first 90 days? What happens when you take someone off the streets and put them into an apartment complex with 300 up close and personal neighbors. Most people in the complex also have the same voucher and therefore the coexisting mental health challenges. There isn’t any counseling, education, coping skills classes to manage this new lease, new responsibilities, quiet times, good neighbor etiquette, etc. You are just expected to know these things and behave accordingly. It is my belief that they just don’t have the skills required to manage this life, no matter how grateful they are for the housing. New recipients of subsidized housing should be offered support in making the transition from one lifestyle to the other, in my humble opinion.
I will continue to post articles on this topic. What are your thoughts on the study or the Housing First Model? What jumped out at you? What, about my commentary would you like to debate? Let me know in the comments. I look forward to a healthy (polite) discussion on this.
John Alexander has been a vendor for 12 years. He speaks with Mindi about how he became affiliated with The Denver Voice, homelessness, and distorted perceptions.
Here at StreetLights – we want to make an impact on people’s lives as well, with great articles and a paper you can be proud of. We are looking forward to having 12 years’ worth of history and success. I hope you are just as inspired as I was.
Let us know what you think about what John has to say or how what you think about being a Vendor for 12 years?
About 30 demonstrators gathered at Margaret T. Hance Park Wednesday in downtown Phoenix to urge city leaders to adopt legislation to decriminalize urban camping.
Demonstrators organized by advocacy group Fund for Empowerment marched down Central Avenue and back toward the park, chanting and carrying signs that read “Mayor Kate Gallego, follow the law,” “Camping is a human right,” and “Follow the Supreme Court and the 9th Circuit.”
A 2018 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals banned cities from arresting or imposing fines on people sleeping in public places in the absence of meaningful housing alternatives.
As a result, local governments in western states have begun to reassess their urban camping ordinances. Among them are cities in Arizona like Glendale and Tempe, which have stopped enforcing urban camping laws.
But little has changed in Phoenix, said Elizabeth Venable, treasurer for the Fund for Empowerment.
‘Everything was taken from me’ by the police
Despite the court decision, the Phoenix Police Department is “doing the same thing they’ve always done,” said Venable.
Elisheyah Riley, 60, was among the group of protesters, and said in the two years she’s been homeless, police have cited her multiple times for camping-related offenses and recently confiscated her possessions.
Four months ago, while Riley was living near the Human Services Campus downtown, police came by and began hauling away bags of her things, including her birth certificate, identification card and sentimental jewelry, she said.
“They just start coming around just taking the items,” Riley said. “Everything was taken from me … that feels like they broke into my house.”
Riley is currently living with friends, but will need to relocate by the end of the month. Her lack of identification makes finding work and housing difficult.
Homeless advocates like Venable say measures that punish people for sleeping on the street are counterproductive, perpetuating the cycle of homelessness. In extreme cases, people wind up with felony records for camping-related offenses, she said.
“Obviously, it makes it very difficult to obtain housing. It makes it very difficult to get a job and it exacerbates homelessness,” said Venable.
‘What are people supposed to do?’
Activists have criticized the city’s urban camping laws since there are not enough beds in local shelters to accommodate Maricopa County’s growing homeless population, which has ballooned to more than 6,500 people on any given night, according to 2019 estimates.
Almost half of the homeless people living in Maricopa County are unsheltered, and many have limited options, said Venable Those with felony records are particularly vulnerable.
“Most shelters will not take all people,” said Venable. “What are people completely excluded from housing supposed to do?”
Phoenix Police refuted claims that officers criminalize people for being homeless.
“Officers approach each situation with an understanding that homelessness is not a crime,” Phoenix PD spokesperson Mercedes Fortune said in an email. She said that citations and arrests of homeless people are usually the result of “additional criminal activity.”
“The Phoenix Police Department leads with service when we encounter individuals who are living, sleeping or camping on public property,” Fortune said. “We make every attempt to connect the person with social services through the Phoenix C.A.R.E.S program, Community Bridges or other service providers.”
On Dec. 18, Venable delivered a petition to the Phoenix City Council challenging the city’s urban camping ordinances.
“Since the 9th Circuit of Appeals ruled in September 2018 on the case Martin v. Boise, the leaders of the City of Phoenix have been intractable in their support for the criminalization of camping and sleeping in public areas,” Venable told the city council.
Venebale said she thinks the City of Phoenix has been slow to move on the issue of urban camping, anticipating the decision will be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
But in December, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider the Boise case, allowing the 9th Circuit ruling to stand.
“Phoenix has no more excuses,” Venable told the council in December. “You must stop criminalizing sleeping and camping.”
Elizabeth Venable, treasurer for the Fund for Empowerment.
After Venable submitted the petition, Councilman Sal DiCiccio suggested the council have a meeting on this issue.
“I’m glad (Venable) brought it up, quite frankly,” DiCiccio said.
On Wednesday, another letter was delivered to the Phoenix City Council, this time with signatures from a coalition of advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, The Poor People’s Campaign, the National Lawyers Guild, Poder in Action and others.
“We are writing to urge the City of Phoenix … to change its policies and practices surrounding police interaction with people who are experiencing homelessness,” the letter stated.
No decision was made on Wednesday, and the petition is to be sent to the Land Use and Livability Subcommittee for consideration.
Paying the help forward
Many homeless people in the city feel they must rely on each other for survival.
James Wooden, 38, didn’t know a protest was happening at Hance Park, but showed up anyway when he heard that Venable, a friend of his, was going to be there.
Wooden has a long beard and the face of a much younger man. He was homeless for about six months, sleeping around the fountains near Phoenix City Hall, before a friend of his invited him to stay at her place.
That’s how he eventually got back on his feet, Wooden said.
Now, he has a place of his own, but he hasn’t forgotten the people he knew during his time sleeping on the streets. Two of them are staying at his apartment now.
“Somebody got me,” Wooden said. “And I came and got them.”
Madeline Ackley is a journalist student at the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication majoring in digital journalism. She is currently the arts and entertainment editor at the Downtown Devil, an independent digital publication run by Arizona State University students. She covers business, arts and local politics.
I founded the Peace Love Hope foundation because I wanted to give back to the community and help others. I speak to people from all walks of life some of whom are in very difficult circumstances. Having been through some big struggles myself I feel like I can relate to them. I try not to judge anyone nor to assume that I know how they feel. I usually let them talk and get it all out.
Many times it truly helps to have good support! After I listen carefully I try to give them something to be hopeful about. I tell them that there is always hope and how thinking positive can really change their situation. It may be because I am more stubborn than most (some might call it persistent) but I don’t give up easily on people. I know that there is always a way sometimes we just can’t see it ourselves.
Usually, big changes start very small. Change can be overwhelming so what I try to do is take things in threes. If I’m looking for a job I will call three people or send three resumes a day. It seems to work because it’s just enough to get moving but not so much as to be overwhelming. I also develop a positive mantra. It can be as simple as “You’ve got this!” Or “you’re stronger than you think”. Then I look up stories of people who have overcome great odds.
I have seen a man with no arms or legs who became extremely successful. Another man thriving and enjoying life even though he can only move his eyes and talks through a computer. So I think to myself “Well you are able-bodied you aren’t sick and you have family and friends supporting you”. Then I plunge in and face my fears.
I try my hardest and I accept that sometimes I will not be able to control everything. I do my best and I take whatever help I am offered. Little by little a hopeless situation changes and I become hopeful, grateful and blessed! I wish the same for you.
Hello my name is Julian Apodaca and I am a recovering alcoholic for over 7 years and an ex opiate addict of 4 years. I am diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder and PTSD. I suffer from PTSD after being shot in the chest at point blank range at the age of 15. That same year my parents were violently killed due to drugs and violence.
For much of my 20’s I self medicated always staying busy working various jobs and furthering my education. Regardless of the tragic life I was given, I still managed to give back to my community.
Per our generous site host, the Arizona State Fair, you may not walk or drive in to the Fairgrounds until Thursday, January 23rd, 2020 at 6:00AM. There will be courts to handle legal issues and dental services so get in line early.
A StandDown event is a community-based resource fair where organizations come together to provide to serve veterans and their families by connecting them with critical supportive services to help them gain and maintain housing stability. ‘Stand Down’ is a military term that refers to the brief period of time given to a soldier to leave an active combat area in order to rest and regain strength before returning to battle.
Yes, Many homeless have pets and although housed people may have a negative opinion about this, there are still Homeless Pets out there. Check out this article to see how you might be able to help or just learn a little bit more about why there are homeless pets in the first place.