Newsroom | Street Count Tells Story of Those Experiencing Homelessness

MAG News

It’s 5:30 a.m., and James Hill trundles a shopping cart along dark downtown street. He is approached by an outreach team conducting an annual count of the region’s homeless.


Homeless man tries to stay warm during PIT CountMany Faces of Homelessness

It’s 5:30 a.m., and James Hill trundles a shopping cart along dark downtown street.  He is approached by an outreach team conducting an annual count of the region’s homeless. It is one day after James’ 54th birthday. He tells them he has been homeless for a month. He provides the volunteer with additional information during a five-minute survey.

“It’s cold outside,” says David Mangrum, who huddles next to a convenience store wall covered by a thin a white blanket, wearing a green knit beanie on his head. David says when he was released from prison he had no idea where his family had gone, and began walking, beginning in Mississippi. He eventually made his way to Arizona. A blacksmith by trade, he says now he can’t even find a fire to keep him warm.

Huddled near David is a woman (name and photo withheld) who is fleeing from domestic violence. She says her children were taken away due to her drug use. She has been homeless for three weeks.

Behind a different convenience store, a man and his girlfriend sleep amidst a large pile of belongings, where they have been living for eight years. The man, who did not want his name used, says they have supported each other through the worst life has to offer. “We have each other’s backs,” he says. He moved to Phoenix due to health issues involving two heart attacks and thought he would be able to live with a friend. But the arrangement never panned out and he has been on the street ever since.

The information from these and hundreds of other such interviews and observations will be used to determine the number of people experiencing homelessness in the Maricopa County region. It will also be used to assess the most critical needs facing those without shelter.

MAG Staff interview a homeless woman and record the information electronically.Counting Those Experiencing Homelessness

The Point in Time Homelessness Street Count was conducted on Tuesday, January 25, 2022, in communities across the Valley. The count was conducted in person this year, after being postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of volunteers in communities throughout the region scanned alleys, parks, riverbeds, building doorways, and other areas in an effort to get an accurate count of the number of people experiencing homelessness. The count provides a one-night snapshot of the number of men, women and children living in unsheltered situations or on the streets. Those who are in shelter were counted the same night to achieve a total homelessness picture.

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 “Why”

Homeless man interviewed during the 2022 PIT Count.An annual count of those experiencing homelessness is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in order for communities to receive federal homelessness funding. But MAG uses the opportunity provided by the count to learn more about the individuals behind the numbers.

“The information from this count allows us to better tailor resources to help people access services and find housing,” said Mesa Mayor John Giles, chair of the MAG Regional Council. “At the same time, we can identify trends and get an understanding of the overall resources needed in our communities. This will be helpful as we implement the ‘Pathways Home’ Regional Homelessness Action Plan approved in December by the MAG Regional Council.”

Riann Balch chairs the Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care Board, the regional group tasked with addressing homelessness in the region. Balch also serves as Community Development and Resources manager for the city of Chandler.

“Along with the count, we also aim to make contact with each individual to learn more about their individual homelessness experience,” she said. “If they don’t wish to be interviewed, the volunteer will record what information they can. The count is extremely valuable for determining how many people need resources and what types of resources are most needed.”

Mobile App

The count was completely paperless. It was conducted using a mobile app used successfully in 2020. Volunteers were able to enter data about the interview or the observation immediately on-site, and the app automatically geocoded the location where the interaction occurred. This application allows analysts to see exactly where homelessness is occurring across the region.

The Numbers

In 2020, the count found 7,419 people experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County on a single night. These numbers represented a one-year homelessness increase of 12 percent in overall homelessness in the region and an 18 percent increase in unsheltered homelessness.

MAG worked closely with the Maricopa County Department of Health Services to ensure all necessary COVID protocols are followed to ensure individual and volunteers are protected during the count.

Initial results from the count are anticipated in late February.

More information can be found on the Point-in-Time Homeless Count 2022 page.

Published February 2, 2022