Valley residents to take to the street to count the homeless

Before the sun rises Tuesday, Jan. 23, hundreds of volunteers in communities throughout the Valley will be searching alleys, parks, riverbeds and other areas in an effort to get an accurate count of the number of people experiencing homelessness.

The effort, which will run from 5:30 a.m. to noon, is part of an annual “Point in Time Homeless Street Count” designed to provide a snapshot of the number of homeless men, women and children on the streets, according to press release.

Coordinated by the Maricopa Association of Governments, the count utilizes volunteer teams that include city, county and state representatives, community and faith-based organizations, businesses, and private residents.

“The volunteers canvas areas to count and interview people experiencing homelessness, many of whom are living in situations not suitable for human habitation,” Buckeye Mayor Jackie Meck, chair of the MAG Regional Council, said in a prepared statement.

“The count is the most accurate means we have for determining how many people need resources and what kinds of services are most effective.”

Chandler Vice Mayor Kevin Hartke co-chairs the Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care Board, which is tasked with addressing homelessness in the region. He says the volunteers do their best to engage the individuals they come across.

“We want to know their personal stories,” Mr. Hartke said in a prepared statement. “The more we understand about each specific situation, the better we can tailor resources to help people access services and find housing. At the same time, we also can identify trends and get an overall understanding of the resources most needed in our communities.”

The 2017 count showed a slight reduction in the overall number of people experiencing homelessness in the region — from 5,702 in 2016 to 5,605 in 2017. However, it also found an increase in the number of individuals and families living in unsheltered situations, or on the street, from 1,646 in 2016 to 2,059.

Last week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the Maricopa region $25.8 million for 41 local homelessness programs. Since 1999, the region has been awarded approximately $400 million to provide permanent housing and services for people who are homeless.

“The annual street count is critical in securing federal funding for permanent housing resources,” Continuum of Care Board Co-chair Amy Schwabenlender, who also serves as the vice president of Community Impact for Valley of the Sun United Way, said in a prepared statement. “It can be used along with other data to prioritize resources to make the most of the dollars provided.”

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