Overview of Homelessness


Homelessness is a complex issue with each individual experiencing homelessness for a multitude of reasons and the solution being just as varied as the individual or family.

The following questions begin to offer context and provide an overview and understanding of homelessness.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines homelessness in four categories:

  • Individuals and families who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and includes a subset for an individual who resided in an emergency shelter or a place not meant for human habitation and who is exiting an institution where he or she temporarily resided.
  • Individuals and families who will imminently lose their primary nighttime residence and has not identified a subsequent residence.
  • Unaccompanied youth under 25 years old and families with children and youth who are defined as homeless under other federal statutes who do not otherwise qualify as homeless under this definition.
  • Individuals and families who are fleeing, or are attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions that relate to violence against the individual or a family member.

Additionally, the definition from the Department of Education includes children and youth who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason as well as children who are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations.

Additional definitions and acronyms used throughout the Continuum of Care.

There is not one cause of homelessness in our region, and there are many factors that can lead to a person experiencing homelessness. Loss of income, unexpected debt, a sudden illness or accident, medical conditions, and domestic violence are just a few factors that can lead to homelessness. There is no stereotypical homeless individual. Homelessness can affect people from all income levels, backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, and ages. Learn more about common stereotypes. In a study of why people are experiencing homelessness, an NYU professor dug into the 12 Biggest Myths about Homelessness in America.

Collecting and analyzing data related to homelessness is challenging. However, there are a myriad of data gathering strategies through a variety of sources. To learn more about how data is collected in the Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care, visit our data page.

Emergency shelter is available for adults and families who are experiencing homelessness on a first-come, first-served basis, to anyone who does not have a safe place to sleep. However, the region does not have enough shelter beds to meet the need of people experiencing homelessness throughout the county. In total, there are over 4,700 shelter beds throughout Maricopa County. Shelters vary in where they are located, how they operate, and who they serve (single adult vs. families, ability to serve pets, etc.). Shelters in Maricopa County are operated by over 40 different partners across the region.

The Continuum of Care (CoC) Program is a structure defined by HUD to promote communitywide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness. It provides funding for efforts by nonprofit providers and state and local governments to quickly rehouse homeless individuals and families while minimizing the trauma and dislocation caused to homeless individuals, families, and communities by homelessness, as well as other identified goals related to housing and supportive services. The Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care has been staffed by the Maricopa Association of Governments since 1999 and has received over $550 million of funding and now supports more than 32 homeless assistance programs in 11 different agencies. In 2023, the Maricopa Continuum of Care received $36.3 million in funding.

The Continuum of Care stands at the center of regional efforts and is led by a diverse governing board, assisted by nine key lateral groups and various workgroups to address aspects of the work. These groups are represented by stakeholders in the community including formerly homeless individuals, advocates, outreach teams, homeless services providers, domestic violence providers, criminal justice system, healthcare system, behavioral health system, child welfare system, elected officials, first responders, Emergency Solutions Grant recipients, Public Housing Authorities, and private funders. Learn more about the Continuum of Care Committees.

Coordinated Entry is a consistent, streamlined process for accessing the resources available in the homeless response system. Required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Coordinated Entry provides a process to ensure that the highest need, most vulnerable households in the community are prioritized for services and that the housing and supportive services in the system are used as efficiently and effectively as possible. Coordinated Entry Access Points serve as engagement points for persons experiencing homelessness. These points of engagement can be either stationary or mobile locations to connect individuals or families experiencing homelessness with the homeless response system.

To get connected to a Coordinated Entry Point or help someone get connected to services, visit our Need Help page.

We can work together to ensure that homelessness is brief, rare, only occurs once, and that everyone in our community has a safe place to call home. Innovative solutions require increased collaboration at every level in the region. Local and tribal governments, nonprofit organizations, faith-based communities and many more are working together to address homelessness throughout the region, but one person can make a difference.

To learn more about the work of partners addressing homelessness and resources within the homeless response system, visit our Resources & Training page.

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