Chris Hallett, director of Peoria’s Neighborhood and Human Services Department, was not surprised when Peoria’s homeless number was shown to increase.
“I think it was spot on,” Hallett said.
Early in the morning of Jan. 21, volunteers went out to do their counts for 2019.
The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) recently released Peoria’s numbers.
According to the data, volunteers counted 78 unsheltered people in Peoria.
Peoria’s 2019 figure is double the 38 unsheltered people counted in 2018. In 2017, 22 unsheltered people were counted - slightly less than the 31 counted in 2016.
Peoria’s 78 unsheltered people were second in the West Valley, behind the 194 unsheltered people counted in Glendale. Avondale was next with 35 unsheltered people, followed by Surprise with 33, Buckey with 24, Goodyear with 22 and Youngtown with 18 unsheltered people counted.
According to Hallet, part of the reason for the increase is more resources being provided for an accurate count.
“We had a substantial increase over the prior year,” Hallet said. “Last year, we only had two police officers who did the count. For the 2019 count, we had 8 teams of three working the whole geography of the city.
“Plus, the team of two from the police department went to the river bottoms and tough terrains.”
Hallet thinks the more people counting led to more homeless people counted.
“We really think prior years were underreported,” he said.
Hallet noted that unsheltered people are not just counted, they are provided information on resources. Unfortunately, for those who need immediate housing, resources are scarce.
However, that may change this year.
“Since the shelters are all filled, we’re going to (city) council on Jan. 21 for a homeless update and strategy discussion,” Hallet said.
He said Peoria is nearing completion of a contract for seven emergency-bed reservations at Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS).
“We anticipated another uptick again this year,” Hallet said. “With 78 (unsheltered) people, the 7 beds won’t last very long,” he added.
The next Point In Time homeless count and survey is scheduled for Jan. 28.
“We offer services while we have them in front of us. Part of questions we like to ask over and above the Point In Time question is, ‘Are you needing services now, if so, what?’
“We provide water, mittens, gloves - it’s first thing in the morning when we get out there, and it’s generally the cold time of year,” Hallet said.
He noted participation on the Point In Time count is required by HUD funding sources.
“It’s kind of a snapshot in time,” he said. “It doesn’t count for those who are in the system, like jail.”
Peoria’s increase follows a regional trend, according to the report provided by the County.
“From 2106 to 2019, unsheltered homelessness in the Maricopa County region increased by 94%,” the report stated. “In the Central subregion (Phoenix), the growth rate in unsheltered homelessness was 64%. In the East Valley, unsheltered homelessness increased by 167% and in the West Valley, it went up by 213%.”
The county-wide increase means multiple cities are facing similar problems.
“We have a bottleneck in the number of unsheltered increasing, and fewer emergency shelter beds,” Hallet said.