They gathered in the pre-dawn at churches, businesses, and city buildings. Fortified with clipboards, water bottles, and a list of assigned grids, hundreds of volunteers throughout the Valley searched alleys, parks, riverbeds and other areas in an effort to get an accurate count of the number of people experiencing homelessness. The annual “Point in Time Homeless Street Count” provides a one-night snapshot of the number of men, women and children living in unsheltered situations or on the streets. Coordinated by the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), the count utilizes volunteer teams that include city, county and state representatives, community and faith-based organizations, businesses, and private residents. The 2019 count took place on Jan. 22 in cities across the Valley. “The volunteers team up to walk through neighborhoods, especially those known as places where people experiencing homelessness are most often found, and interview them about their situation,” says Queen Creek Mayor Gail Barney, chair of the MAG Regional Council. “The count is the most accurate means we have for determining how many people need resources and what kinds of services are most effective.” Amy Schwabenlender co-chairs the Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care Board, the regional group tasked with addressing homelessness in the region. She also serves as executive director of the Human Services Campus. “The more we understand about their individual experiences, 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 understanding of the overall resources needed in our communities.” This year, the teams will expand the use of a mobile app tested in select areas last year. “Capturing the information electronically means we can better map where homelessness is occurring,” said Tempe Police Sgt. Rob Ferraro, also co-chair of the Continuum of Care. “It can be used with other data to prioritize resources to make the most of the dollars provided through federal funding each year.” The 2018 Point-in-Time Count told a troubling story of an increase in the overall number of people experiencing homelessness in the Maricopa County region. Of particular concern was the continuing increase in the number of people living in unsheltered situations. According to the report submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by the Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care, there were 6,298 people experiencing homelessness on the night of January 22, 2018. This includes those living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or on the streets. This is a 12 percent increase from the region’s 2017 number of 5,605. The 2018 count also found an increase in the number of individuals and families living on the street, with the unsheltered count rising to 2,618 in 2018 from 2,059 in 2017.