PHOENIX – Bundled beneath layers of clothing and equipped with digital surveys, a band of six volunteers from the nonprofit organization Community Bridges walked the streets of downtown early Tuesday to tally the number of people experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County.
The Point-in-Time Homeless Count is conducted nationwide to gauge the extent of homelessness across the country. Each year, the Maricopa Association of Governments designates hundreds of volunteers, staff members and outreach workers to canvass various grids within the county and submit data to help secure funding and inform new solutions to homelessness.
Elizabeth DaCosta is the senior director of housing and community integration at Community Bridges, which uses housing, therapy, education and medications to create treatment plans for behavioral health concerns and addiction treatment. DaCosta, who led a group of five volunteers, said the statistics collected for Point-in-Time help paint the true picture of homelessness and the need for more shelter.
“We get to use this information as a system to be able to show that there is this increase in unsheltered homelessness going on in our community,” DaCosta said.
Volunteers asked the people they surveyed a series of questions to divide the statistics into different demographics. Questions included whether an individual uses alcohol or drugs, has ever stayed in a shelter and whether they’ve served in the military.
“Also, we ask information around their history of homelessness that helps us identify if there is a significant amount of people experiencing chronic homelessness, like are our services working or are we seeing that people are staying homeless longer,” DaCosta said.
The Maricopa County count occurs annually at the end of January, but last year’s count was canceled because of COVID-19. The snapshot from the 2020 Point-in-Time Count showed that 7,419 people were experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County, an overall 12% increase from the 2019 count. The number of sheltered and unsheltered individuals also went up by 7% and 18%, respectively. Final data for the 2022 count still is being analyzed.
As volunteers came across unsheltered people, they shared contact information and resources. For people who needed immediate help, Community Bridges volunteer Alyssa Russell said crisis care could be provided on location.
“I have been here and I know what it’s like for them,” Russell said. “I want to do what I can to get them the resources that they need.”
Russell said she discovered the head count through her work with Community Bridges, and signed up this year for the first time.
“No one wants people to be homeless; it is the worst way to live,” Russell said. “Being homeless sucks – being stuck in the cold and stuff. This count helps us get the funding so that we can help these people get off the streets.”