Phoenix Homeless

As Councilman, I will take the lead on working with community leaders and charitable organizations to get people the help they need and break the cycle of poverty.

Phoenix Homeless Problems

STATUS QUO: The ills of homelessness and poverty affect our entire community, as the Phoenix area is 2nd in the nation in extreme poverty rates. We’ve seen a lack of leadership from City Hall when it comes to partnering with charitable organizations and increasing efficiencies when it comes to caring for those most in need.

Phoenix deserves better than the status quo of cyclical homelessness and poverty in our communities.

Homelessness Phoenix Arizona

Develop “First Step Phoenix” Program

We need one municipal program that improves communication between city departments, nonprofits, and the private sector, improving efficiencies and getting those in need the help they deserve. As Councilmember, I will lead the way on the creation of “First Step Phoenix”. My vision for “First Step” is an initiative that focuses on providing resources to those in need, including temporary employment, housing (including permanent housing and housing support), and rehabilitation services.

Create Social Impact Partnerships

Similar to the public-private partnerships (P3) we see for infrastructure projects, Phoenix should partner with private companies and organizations to fund programs based on results that have a social impact. From reducing homelessness to enabling children in low-income households to receive education assistance, Phoenix must be a leader in social impact partnerships that drive results and improve our city’s quality of life.

Increase Affordable Housing Options

For too many charities and affordable housing providers, the abundance of regulations at City Hall makes it difficult to provide options to low-income families. As Councilman, I will fight to reduce the number of regulations at City Hall for these providers and lead on the partnerships between the City, affordable housing providers, and homeless shelter to create more housing options for everyone in our community.

Reduce Regulations and Bureaucracy

Too often, community organizations have run into bureaucracy and red tape at City Hall when it comes to fulfilling their mission. We need to reform the way City Hall looks at regulatory barriers and allow charitable organizations the freedom to serve our indigent population the best way they can instead of standing in their way.

Create Regional Homelessness Task Force

Homelessness and chronic homelessness is not just a Phoenix problem; it is a regional and national issue that will need leaders from across the Valley working together. I will fight to establish a regional task force that encourages collaboration between cities and focuses on best practices to get those in need of the proper resources.

There's been a nearly 450% increase in people camped out on the streets in one concentrated area since April 2021.

PHOENIX (UPDATED May 25, 2022) – Located within a pocket of streets and sidewalks in downtown Phoenix, the homeless crisis has exploded as there are more than a thousand unsheltered people living on the streets in this area known as “the zone.”

What’s surrounding Arizona’s largest homeless emergency shelter is tough to absorb and very concerning to property and business owners there.

How did it get to this point, and what’s being done to address this complex crisis?

Growing numbers of those living unsheltered

Maricopa County’s last official unsheltered homeless count in 2022 was about 5,029, marking a consistent year-to-year increase since 2014, when the count was 1,053, according to the Point-In-Time 2022 snapshot by the Maricopa Association of Governments.

The 2021 count was not taken due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of May 10, the majority of people experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County are in Phoenix with about 3,096 people unsheltered.

That’s a 30%  jump from 2020, increasing by 2,380.

For more context, the number of unsheltered people on the streets of Phoenix was 771 in 2014.

“It’s just a representation of what we have gone through and what we’ve fought for, simply for where we stand” said Johnson. “Everyone has tough times. Some tougher than others.”

Johnson moved to the Phoenix area from Virginia a year ago, hoping to get a landscaping job. It did not work out and, he wound up homeless. However, he remains grateful.

“Not happy, but I am proud to be an American. That’s A-1.”

‘It keeps getting larger and larger’

“We saw this coming. We’re so behind the eight-ball. Why? Why isn’t this a state of emergency?” Ojile asked.

The population in “the zone” only seems to grow. Meantime the city of Phoenix is investing $50 million toward homelessness solutions, but patience is dwindling.

“If Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, with all of their talent and all of their money, can’t solve the problem, and it keeps getting larger and larger, how the hell is Phoenix going to do it?” Doepker said.

He believes sobriety and mental health should be prioritized before housing and jobs, and Ojile is in constant contact with the city, saying there needs to be more urgency.

“We can’t just clean it up and make it look good because we got a Super Bowl coming. We gotta care enough about this now and these people out here now,” Ojile said.

When Ojile was asked if she thinks “the zone” could become like Los Angeles’s Skid Row, or San Francisco, she said, “I would never have thought that that could happen down here, but now I do.”

In part two of this four-part series, we look at how strained the resources are that are being provided by Central Arizona Shelter Services, known as CASS. They continue to add more beds but keeping up with the growing number out on the streets is an uphill battle.

Beds are a temporary band aid, shelter employees say, and that the homelessness crisis is tied to an affordable housing crisis.

Arizona continues to experience homeless crisis as encampments are being set up along Phoenix area freeways

PHOENIX – People who drive on the Valley freeways may have noticed more homeless encampments in some areas.

According to the 2020 Point-in-Time Count conducted by Maricopa County officials, there are over 7,400 people experiencing homelessness in the county on the night of Jan. 27, 2020. Of these, 51% of them are considered to be unsheltered.

Another Point-In-Time Count is scheduled for Jan. 25, 2022.

Homeless encampment pops up along I-17

One of the areas with homeless encampments is along the I-17.

It is a striking image: replicas of the American flag being used as part of tents, or displayed at a homeless encampment.

David Johnson lives in one of those encampments.

“It’s just a representation of what we have gone through and what we’ve fought for, simply for where we stand” said Johnson. “Everyone has tough times. Some tougher than others.”

Johnson moved to the Phoenix area from Virginia a year ago, hoping to get a landscaping job. It did not work out and, he wound up homeless. However, he remains grateful.

“Not happy, but I am proud to be an American. That’s A-1.”

Flags are snow covers distributed by charity

The replica flags, according to Johnson, are actually snow covers that St. Vincent de Paul handed out to the homeless, so they might better weather the cold.

One man who did not want to show his face says the flags are ironic to him.

“It’s the hypocrisy that you have a country that’s willing to spend a lot of money on the border wall or prisons in Arizona, which are disgusting, but they are not willing to help people that are truly struggling.,” said the man.

Less than a block away, St. Vincent de Paul runs its resource center, providing meals, and other support to the homeless. Many expect the number of people needing help will surge in 2022.

Below is a summary of a article in 2020 by Jessica Boehm of the Arizona Republic.

More than 500 people experiencing homelessness in metro Phoenix died in the first nine months of 2020.

The unexpected and deadly COVID 19 pandemic — which ravaged the world this year and killed more than 7,000 Arizonans — was known to be responsible for only four of those deaths.

The rest were caused by the same concerns that killed hundreds of homeless people last year and, in all likelihood, will kill hundreds more next year.

Drug overdoses. Heatstroke. Malnutrition. Treatable illnesses. Vehicle collisions.

Nearly all of the people who died were not staying at a shelter at the time of their death. Their bodies were found outside — in tents, on sidewalks, in a Porta Potty, under freeway tunnels and in dry river bottoms.

Most of their deaths were preventable. Nearly all of them were caused or expedited by the conditions in which they lived, according to an Arizona Republic analysis of medical examiner reports.

A surefire way to prolong their lives would be to provide stable transitional housing, and, in the interim, safe and accessible emergency shelter.

Metro Phoenix does not have enough of either of those resources, which is reflected in the record number of street deaths recorded this year.

“This number of people who died on the streets, it needs to be a wake-up call to our policymakers and our leaders,” said Lisa Glow, CEO of Central Arizona Shelter Services.

Most of those who died perished alone on metro Phoenix streets. They were buried only with government employees and a single clergy member to bear witness.

Some had hobbies and college degrees, memorable senses of humor and artistic talents.

They had families and people who cared about them — some of whom learned weeks or months later that their loved one had passed.

Homelessness is increasing in Maricopa County, but the number of deaths appears to be increasing at a much higher rate.

2020 likely saw a record number of homeless deaths in Maricopa County, although it’s impossible to say for sure since the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner only began tracking the data consistently this year.

Previously, investigators would write “transient” in the address box on their reports if they believed people were homeless at the time of their death. But that wasn’t always done consistently, according to Chief Medical Examiner Jeffrey Johnston.

The office started using a new system in December 2019 that requires investigators to check “yes” or “no” as to whether the person who died was homeless before death. Johnston said investigators now have been trained to ask questions about the person’s housing status during an investigation.

“We probably have undercounted (in the past) and unfortunately we don’t really know by how much,” Johnston said.

Even with the old, less-scientific way of capturing housing information, homeless deaths were increasing exponentially each year between 2017-2019, according to The Republic’s analysis.

And this year, the death rate was significantly higher than in years past, according to Dr. Christopher Pexton, medical director of Circle the City’s downtown family health center. Circle the City is the provider of health care for the homeless in Maricopa County.

“This summer was exceptionally hard and was exceptionally deadly. We saw a flare in medical and mental conditions that resulted in a lot of really preventable deaths,” Pexton said.

Though the COVID-19 virus itself was not significantly lethal in the homeless population, the virus’ impact on services, shelter and psyche likely played a role in the increased death rate, Pexton said.

COVID-19 hit its first peak in Arizona during the summer. Many fast-food restaurants, libraries, community centers, homeless service providers and other places where people living on the streets would congregate and take respite closed to the public in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.

Homelessness is already isolating, but with gathering places closed, people spent even more time alone, leading to more symptoms of mental illness, less willingness to seek help and more self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, Pexton said.

The closures also meant fewer indoor spaces to cool down from the extreme summer heat. Heat deaths of people experiencing homelessness more than doubled between 2019 and 2020, according to Maricopa County data

Who are the people who died on the streets of metro Phoenix?

The average person experiencing homelessness who died in the first nine months of 2020 in Maricopa County was older than 45, white and male, according to The Republic’s analysis.

The average age at the time of death was 49, and almost one-quarter were over the age of 60 when they died, illustrating a troubling trend of increasing senior homelessness.


More than 80% of the people who died were men.

The races and ethnicity of the people who died do not align with Maricopa County population numbers, but they do match up with the homeless population demographics in the county.

Homeless deaths for White, Black, and Native American people occurred at higher rates than their representation in the general Maricopa County population. Homeless deaths of Latino and Asian people occurred at rates significantly lower than their representation in the greater population.


People experiencing homelessness died in nearly every ZIP code in metro Phoenix, but clusters occurred in downtown Phoenix, midtown Phoenix, Sunnyslope, downtown Tempe and downtown Mesa.

Why did they die? ‘The perfect storm’

Of the 484 deaths where the cause of death has been determined:

Most deaths were a combination of several factors.

“The things that I saw consistently were some combination of heat, chronic illness and either an acute illness or substance abuse that just resulted in the perfect storm that resulted in a lot of people dying,” Pexton said.

How to help people experiencing homelessness in metro Phoenix

There were at least 7,419 people experiencing homelessness in metro Phoenix at the start of 2020 when providers conducted the annual point-in-time count in Maricopa County.

That number likely has increased over the course of the year as COVID-19-related job loss has forced even more Arizonans into homelessness.

More than half of the people experiencing homelessness in the county are living “unsheltered” — sleeping on the streets, in desert washes, vehicles or another place not meant for habitation.

People experiencing this type of homelessness have significant needs, from food and water to blankets and clothing.

If you’re interested in helping, dozens of nonprofits in metro Phoenix are accepting donations of goods and money to help care for our community’s most vulnerable.

Coverage of housing insecurity on and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Arizona Community Foundation.

Reach Jessica Boehm at Follow her on Twitter @jboehm_NEWS.

Homeless and Hungry

Phoenix Rescue Mission | Homelessness in the Valley of the Sun

More than 25,800 people in Maricopa County have no place to call home.

I didn’t know how to be homeless.

That’s what Mark said after coming to the Phoenix Rescue Mission. The day before, he had been digging through a dumpster for food.

Who does know how to be homeless? Who wants to know?

It can happen to anyone, anytime. Sometimes it’s a result of circumstances beyond our control — job loss, eviction, divorce, domestic violence, mental illness, medical bills. Sometimes it’s a result of one’s own poor choices — most often, substance abuse.

It’s impossible to say exactly how many homeless people are in the Phoenix area. But in 2015, officials counted 25,832 homeless people in Maricopa County throughout the year. On one particular night, there were 4,342 homeless individuals in shelters and 1,289 on the streets. This means that on any given day, there could be up to 5,500 homeless people in our county. And a still-recovering economy means that more and more people are experiencing homelessness for the first time — and many don’t know where to turn.

More families on the streets

The face of homelessness is changing too.

An astounding 37 percent of Maricopa County’s homeless people are families, usually single moms with kids. The Phoenix area ranks fifteenth highest in the U.S. for the number of homeless people in families.

Families experiencing homelessness move frequently between shelters, overcrowded apartments, and temporary arrangements with relatives or friends. All that moving around is traumatic, particularly for children. Lack of consistency, routines, privacy, safety, health care, uninterrupted schooling, and more make it hard for kids to flourish socially, emotionally, and academically.

Homeless children are twice as likely to experience hunger, health problems, and repeat a grade in school. Homeless families need assistance with housing, employment, childcare, school enrollment, transportation, recreation, and parenting.

Homelessness in Arizona

There are over 36,000 homeless people in the Grand Canyon State — one in every 184 Arizonans. Maricopa County holds 61 percent of Arizona’s population, but an estimated 71 percent of the state’s homeless population. Statewide, approximately 2,500 people are considered “unsheltered,” living on the streets. Most of them were single adults, and 79 percent of them were men.

The number of homeless people in families is on the rise throughout Arizona; many of them are victims of domestic violence. According to the DES, 4,346 adults and 4,095 children received help from domestic violence service providers in 2014.

So, why don’t I see this many people on the streets? The simplified definition of homelessness is that one does not have a consistent, livable place to call their own. Take children for example. According to DES, there are 29,763 children (pre-kindergarten through 12th grade) reported throughout Arizona as homeless. 65 percent of those children are doubled up (living temporarily with another family), 28 percent were living in shelters, which includes foster care, 4 percent were temporarily living in hotels, and 3 percent were living unsheltered. At the Mission, we serve all of these percentages, but we are especially passionate about reaching that last 3 percent that are on the streets.

When it comes to homelessness, Arizona, Maricopa County, and Phoenix have a serious problem, but the Phoenix Rescue Mission is making a difference.