Before the sun rose over the Valley on January 28, 2020, hundreds of volunteers fanned out across the region in an annual effort to count the number of people experiencing homelessness. The volunteers crisscrossed assigned grids to search alleys, parks, riverbeds, streets, and doorways as part of the annual Point in Time Homeless Street Count. The 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 annual count utilizes volunteer teams that include city, town, county, and state representatives; community and faith-based organizations; businesses; and private residents. The point-in-time data are submitted annually to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which uses the information to allocate and prioritize funding for homeless programs. Regionally, the information is analyzed to better understand root causes of homelessness, including what leads to chronic homelessness, what leads to first-time homelessness, and the causes of veteran and family homelessness. The 2019 Count found that the number of people experiencing homelessness increased in Maricopa County for the sixth straight year. “These aren’t just numbers, these are 6,614 stories of individuals with 6,614 personal pathways into homelessness,” noted Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell, chair of the MAG Regional Council. “Our job is to better understand where we can intersect people along these pathways, and change the course of homelessness in our region.” Outreach worker Tara Devlin of Community Bridges, Inc., interviews Tony Cañes about his experience with homelessness as part of the Point in Time Homeless Count. For the first time, the annual count was conducted entirely electronically using a cell phone app, following a successful pilot program conducted over the past two years. “Electronic data gathering enables us to get results more quickly. We also can map geographically where concentrations of homeless populations exist,” said Tempe Police Sgt. Robert Ferraro, co-chair of the Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care Board, which develops regional solutions to end homelessness. West Valley communities requested a new question be added this year related to foster care. “We hope this question gives us additional information on those who age out of the foster care system who are now experiencing homelessness,” said Goodyear Councilmember Wally Campbell, chair of the MAG Human Services and Community Initiatives Committee. “Communities are interested in working with the Department of Child Safety to connect those without traditional family supports with services that will help connect them with stable housing resources.” In 2019, the unsheltered count portion identified 3,188 people living in a place not meant for human habitation, such as on the street, in desert washes, or in vehicles, noted Systems Transformation Advisor Tamara Wright of Community Solutions, also co-chair of the Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care Board. “This represented an increase of 22 percent over 2018. Nearly 13 percent, more than 400 people, reported to be experiencing homelessness for the first time. Our hope is that these numbers will be lower this year and that we can start moving the trend line the other direction,” Wright said. Going back to 2014, the unsheltered homeless population has increased 200 percent. For the first time, the 2019 unsheltered count also included a tally of pets. Overall data identified 182 pets on the street, 10 of which were service animals. The 2020 count also included a count of pets.