Homelessness in big cities is not something that is easily ignored, whether for a resident or for a traveler.
The Phoenix Metropolitan Area is not excluded from that. This area is home to 4,486,153 residents according to the 2010 census. And unfortunately, a large number of those living in this area do so without a roof over their head.
For the past 26 years, every new year, volunteers and staff partake in a Point in Time (PIT) survey in order to count the number of homeless in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area.
The most recent report, Homelessness in Arizona Annual Report by the Arizona Department of Economic Security, was published December 31, 2017. The PIT was taken place in Jan. of 2017.
The numbers reported by the PIT are staggering. 15 percent of homeless have been categorized as chronically homeless, meaning that they live without shelter or resources. The count also reported that there are 6,433 single adults, 2,459 families and 3,992 adults and 3,928 children forced onto the streets by domestic violence.
Dana Martinez, director of shelter services at A New Leaf, said there has been an increase in homelessness across the valley which is reflected in the PIT.
“One of the things we have seen an increase with the Point in Time count is not only in the number of homeless people in the valley, but the number of unsheltered homeless people in the valley,” said Martinez.
In the greater Phoenix area there are upwards of 20 shelters and A New Leaf is just one of many. They offer programs such as domestic violence, housing, youth and foster care services as well as a food pantry and training to help people get back on their feet.
And like many shelters in the valley, A New Leaf is non-profit; completely relying on the support of donors and volunteers. Communities need to get involved with local shelters to support and donate.
“The main thing communities can do is really help advocate for affordable housing. One of the issues is that there’s a big lack of affordable housing in our community. It’s gotten so bad that it’s helping create the homeless situation by people getting their rents raised to the point where they can’t afford to live in those apartments anymore or those units anymore,” Martinez said. “So, they look for somewhere else to live, but they can’t find anywhere else to live with the same grant and they end up becoming homeless.”
It is easy to donate cans, clothes and other supplies to homeless shelters but according to Martinez the lack of advocacy for the homeless is where the surrounding communities are falling short.
Holly DeCamp, a student at ASU studying elementary education who often volunteers at Feed My Starving Children: a Christian non-profit that provides meals to children all over the world, said, “I believe it’s important to get exposed to the homelessness in our community by volunteering at shelters.”
“Sometimes we live in a bubble and don’t get to see the hardships others are facing around us. There are people who were once participating members in society who had a turn of bad luck and ended up on the streets with no support,” DeCamp said. “By volunteering and seeing this in person, it compels you to want to continue to help and advocate for these people after hearing their stories.
Like many social issues, people forget about homelessness because it does not affect them, or they have a stereotype of homeless people: they’re on the streets because of drug use or they are just not educated enough to hold down a job or even that they are on the corner asking for money as a scam.
But like many stereotypes, not all homeless people fall into those categories. According to a report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are approximately 554,000 homeless people in America as of 2017.
2017 also marks the first year that the number of homeless has risen since 2010. This issue is not something to be brushed under the rug. And with housing prices on the rise, more and more people will be forced out of their homes, unable to survive on their federal housing grants or low income.
The latest poll by Standard & Poor’sCase–Shiller Home Price composite index, predicts that in the next year housing in 20 cities will rise 5.7 percent and 4.3 percent across the nation. And by 2020, they are predicted to rise another 3.6 percent.
The poll also revealed on a scale from one to ten, with one being extremely inexpensive and ten being extremely expensive, the median was rated at a seven for the cost of housing prices in the next year.
These numbers do not sound promising in the hopes of helping members of the homeless community get back on their feet. It is more important than ever to help those struggling on the streets to keep up with inflation in America.
In the eyes of the government, homeless people are not considered a protected class unlike other large groups of American culture that are protected by discrimination. According to HG.org, one of the very first online law and government information sites that has been active for 23 years, by not classifying homeless people as a protected class, it often leads communities to “discourage or criminalize homelessness.”
This leads to communities often creating laws that can be enforced because they do not discriminate against protected classes such as racial, ethnic and religious minorities. Some of these laws, according to HG.org, include “changing sprinkler schedules to prevent sleeping in public parks, removing benches and creating permits that require the payment of a fee in order to panhandle.”
In the past year, many areas inside the Phoenix Metropolitan Area declared ‘urban camping’ illegal which is targeted at the homeless that sleep on the streets. If found sleeping in parks, on sidewalks or in any public space a person can be charged with a misdemeanor and face fines.
Laws like this, that attack the homeless rather than help are what local and federal governments need to counteract in order to stop the dehumanization of homeless people and create policy to help.