2023 Point-in-Time Count

 In Reflections
Reflections from the Front Lines

2023 Point-in-Time Count

More people experiencing homelessness in 2023

It’s been 11 days since my last post. Since we are in endemic mode related to COVID, I’ll pause my personal olfactory updates and only share if I gain some tremendous new level of smelling abilities (note: nothing new in the last 11 days).

After about six weeks of counting more than 800 individuals as unsheltered in the neighborhood around the Human Services Campus, the count today by the HSC Outreach Team is 762. We don’t know where over 100 people went exactly in the last week. We do know that news from the City about cleanup activities is causing people to have concerns, questions, and potentially leading them to leave the area.

We continue to shelter about 900 people per night in four spaces on the Campus. And as summer temperatures have already arrived, we are setting up for heat relief. More shaded areas outdoors, more hours indoors for people have a place of respite. And the impending demand for approximately 100,000 bottles of water per month. The collective ThirstAid effort launches this week with an ask to the community to donate bottles of water, hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip balm. It’s the time of year when I’m reminded that the effects of heat are not as recognized as cold weather effects. Having spent my younger years in Wisconsin, freeze warnings are seemingly more easily understood by people. We all can visualize freezing (we all know what an ice cube looks like and how it’s made), and we know it doesn’t take long to suffer from frostbite or hypothermia. A heat warning doesn’t seem to create the same visual… maybe we have personally experienced heat exhaustion or heat stroke… and maybe we all haven’t. Yet heat can create a stress on the body that may lead to serious and potentially fatal conditions. For us Phoenicians, hydration and shade are life-saving measures.

In other local news, the Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care released the results of this year’s Point-in-Time (PIT) Count. This is a snapshot of homelessness in the community that can be tracked over time.

In Maricopa County on the night of January 23, 2023, 9,642 people were counted as experiencing homelessness, with 51% (4,908) sheltered and 49% (4,734) unsheltered. The sheltered count is done through the database (HMIS) that service providers use to enter shelter data. The unsheltered count is done by volunteers in the community that walk the streets, alleys, parking lots, riverbeds, and neighborhoods to count and survey people.

The total count of 9,642 is 7% higher than the count in 2022. Without going into a full analysis of all of the demographics, municipality, and subpopulation data, what I believe is most important to note is:

  1. Shelter capacity increased from 2022 to 2023. That’s a good thing.
  2. Homelessness exists in every city and town in Maricopa County (three cities reported 0 counted: Litchfield Park, Carefree, and Cave Creek, and I say perhaps they didn’t have enough volunteers).
  3. Black/African American people are over-represented in the homeless population for another year in a row. This perpetual disproportionality indicates systemic issues that must be addressed directly.
  4. The report doesn’t include the fact that on January 23, 2023 there was a freeze warning in Phoenix/Maricopa County. Nor does it state that the count begins at 5:00 am. As a person who volunteered and was outside, I know from firsthand experience that the count under-represents the total of people unsheltered on that morning. People were hunkered in their tents, temporary structures, and nestled into blankets and sleeping bags. There is no door to knock on to ask people to wake up and answer survey questions. And speaking to people, asking them to wake up and be counted and consider talking about their situation and personal history is intrusive. I wouldn’t answer the door at my house at 5:00 am by a census taker.

So bottom line for me, there are more people experiencing homelessness in 2023 than in 2022 in Maricopa County. And it is more than 9,642. I won’t throw out a guess as to how much more. What do we do now? We continue to focus on improving prevention, keeping people housed who already have housing; we support services for people already experiencing homelessness; and we do everything we absolutely can with urgency and creativity to add more housing inventory. All while challenging the inequities built into our communities and systems that perpetuate the overrepresentation of people of color in homelessness.

Oh, and maybe we all advocate to HUD that this PIT method is outdated, and we work on more frequent usage of real-time data to understand homelessness and to inform prevention and housing.

About the Human Services Campus

Founded in 2005, the Human Services Campus is a collaborative force of partner organizations united on one campus to end homelessness. Located just west of downtown Phoenix, 16 independent agencies on the Campus see nearly 1,000 individuals every day, offering a holistic range of client services including: reunification with family and friends; mental, physical and dental health; shelter; employment; meals; legal services and housing. Having all of these resources in one location with intra-agency communications makes it more feasible to provide a customized engagement for each client to help end their homelessness. For more information, visit www.hsc-az.org.

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