At age 18, Trevor Southwick had everything going for him — a home, a college scholarship, and a great job. But soon, Trevor would end up living on the street. Trevor eventually received help from a Peer Support Specialist, a behavioral health professional with lived experience who works directly with people with those shared experiences. Today, Trevor himself is a Peer Support Specialist. “Despite these amazing milestones in my life, it was not long after that I was introduced to heroin and my life quickly began to spiral,” Trevor told participants in a recent Regional Homelessness Capstone event. “I eventually reached a crossroad in my life and was faced with one of the most terrifying decisions….Looking back, I believe that I did not have a drug problem, but rather I had a living problem,” said Trevor. Trevor’s story provided a moving reminder to event participants of the real human experiences that drive homelessness work. It provided the background setting for discussions as local governments and stakeholders worked together on a regionwide response to reduce homelessness in the region. ( For Trevor’s full comments at the event, click here .) Homelessness continues to increase throughout our region at a rate faster than anywhere in the nation. The most recent count of people experiencing homelessness in 2020 found more than 7,000 people in the Maricopa region living in shelters or on the street, and that people are at risk of homelessness in every community in the region. The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) and the Regional Collaborative on Homelessness developed 14 regional strategies to address homelessness. The strategies were adopted by the MAG Regional Council in May. “We have had frequent, productive dialogues and taken action over the past year to build the collaborative resources needed to address the increasing rates of homelessness in our region,” said MAG Chair Jerry Weiers, mayor of Glendale. “Regional homelessness strategies were identified after extensive outreach and research. The purpose of the Capstone event is to begin creating an action plan to put the strategies to work. Our goal is to build bridges across diverse sectors for a multidisciplinary response to homelessness.” The adopted regional strategies cover topics in five categories — homelessness diversion and prevention, increased housing options, enhanced coordination, more service options, and more temporary housing solutions. The full portfolio is available here . Not all strategies will be implemented by all communities — each community will choose an approach based on the community’s priorities and resources. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said regional collaboration is important, and partners need to include neighborhoods and residents. “As we implement strategies in the communities, we are mindful of the residents in the neighborhoods who will be affected. They can be our biggest allies or our biggest critics. Their voices are important as we work together,” she said. While communities are supporting the regional efforts in different ways, community partners are also providing support. Some partners, such as the Urban Land Institute, bring housing experts and developers to the table, while others, like the Black Chamber of Arizona, bring the perspective of business as well as racial equity. Valley of the Sun United Way has just released its own five-year strategic plan. “We are deeply committed to addressing homelessness in this region,” says Carla Vargas Jasa, president and CEO of Valley of the Sun United Way, a speaker at the event. “We will invest our funding, time and expertise to ensure all people have a safe place to call home. By 2026, we are striving to reduce homelessness by 50 percent. We look forward to partnering with MAG and the communities to achieve this mighty goal.” The forum was co-hosted by partners in diverse fields such as business, housing, faith, and the nonprofit community. The outreach forum series was developed by MAG and the Regional Collaborative on Homelessness. Partners include the Arizona Housing Coalition, Arizona State University (ASU) Action Nexus, MAG, Maricopa County Human Services Department, Valley of the Sun United Way, and Vitalyst Health Foundation. Arizona Town Hall shared its expertise in facilitation, recording, and reporting for the forum.