Newsroom | Even Before COVID, Homeless Numbers Increased Dramatically

MAG News

More than 7,000 people experienced homelessness in Maricopa County on the night of January 27, 2020, continuing a troubling upward trend.

For the first time, the number of people on the street surpasses those in shelters


More than 7,000 people experienced homelessness in Maricopa County on the night of January 27, 2020, continuing a troubling upward trend.  

The newly released number from the Point in Time annual homeless count marks a substantial increase of 11 percent over last year. Perhaps more troubling is the fact that, for the first time, the number of people on the street (3,767) surpassed the number of people in shelters (3,652).  The unsheltered population grew by 18 percent compared to 2019. 

Total PIT Count, 2015-2020 Bar Chart

“There is a steady increase in homelessness in Maricopa County, and with eviction rates being one of the highest in the nation, as well as shelter beds decreasing, our county is not keeping up with the impending crisis that is homelessness,” said Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care Board co-Chair Tamara Wright. 

Her concerns are echoed by her board co-chair, Tempe Police Sgt. Rob Ferraro. He adds that the count took place in January, well before the COVID-19 pandemic cost thousands of jobs.  

“We fear that the economic impacts of COVID-19 will create an even greater crisis as people who lost livelihoods struggle to maintain housing,” said Ferraro. “Well before the pandemic, the numbers continued to demonstrate the need for more affordable housing.”

The number of homeless people has risen steadily since 2015, with only one dip in 2017.

“Homelessness is a regional challenge that requires a regional solution,” said MAG Chair Jerry Weiers, mayor of Glendale. “MAG is working with providers and actively fostering collaborations across the county to reduce these numbers. But this is going to take commitment and resources to address the growing trend.”

MAG coordinates the annual count of people experiencing homelessness every January. Volunteers fan out across the region, searching streets, alleys, parks, riverbeds, and doorways. In most cases, they can conduct surveys to get more detailed information about each individual. If the person chooses not to answer any questions, the individual is still counted. In 2020, the count was conducted entirely digitally through a cell phone app.

After the count, the data are cross-checked for duplicates, updated, and combined with the number of people in shelters. The numbers are then submitted to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for its nationwide Annual Homeless Report.  

J.J. Santos interviews Jesus Gonzales during the 2020 Point in Time Count.

Published August 3, 2020