Imagine having to wake up at sunrise to make sure you’re out of the alleyway before customers arrive. Wandering the streets in the dark thinking about where you’re going to spend your day, how or what you’re going to eat. For me, I can’t imagine this. Most of us have never had to worry about whether we had a roof over our head or a meal when you woke up. For many individuals who are homeless, this is their reality.
DES staff had the opportunity to learn more about this reality when they participated this week in the annual Point in Time (PIT) Homeless Count. A dozen volunteers from DES hit the streets before sunrise, counting and surveying those who live in shelters and on the streets of Maricopa County.
The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) coordinates the PIT count each year and serves as the hub of collaboration between the Continuum of Care and local communities to determine approximately how many people are homeless, so federal funding can be allocated. Federal funding for homeless services stems from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is distributed by DES. The count determines the amount of funding needed for the next fiscal year.
One woman living what she called “this extremely difficult life” is just 22 years old. She wakes up with her husband each morning, and they head to an intersection to try and collect money for food. Often, the police come around and tell them they have to move. They find themselves relocating to a different area just so they can get some money to eat. They won’t stay in shelters because they can’t be together.
Another man the group encountered was more than willing to discuss his living situation. He pointed across the street to a church parking lot in west Phoenix, where he says he sleeps with four others.
Members of the DES team asked individuals basic demographic information like where they slept the night before and the duration of their homelessness, for example. One man has been homeless for 17 years after he was let go from a retail job he’d held for eight years.
The ages of these homeless individuals ranged from 22 to 67 years old. They were men and women, fathers and mothers, and even some grandparents. Some admitted to substance abuse. Others said they were HIV positive. Many of those the group encountered suffered from mental health issues. One gentleman was very open with the fact that he was schizophrenic and was medicated for it, when he could get the medication.
Roughly a half dozen of those spoken to said that they slept in a car wash parking lot the night before. They praised the owner of the car wash, who let many of them come after business hours and sleep on the covered property, as long as they were gone by time the business opens.
“You will get those certain business owners that are caring and let you stay on their property, as long as you’re respectful of it,” said one man.
The DES group interviewed 35 individuals who are experiencing homelessness. For individuals that did not want to be surveyed, or who were sleeping, general observations about the area in which they resided were recorded. The data collected during the PIT count won’t be available until May, in order to collect and analyze from all nationwide counts. The 2017 PIT count identified 5,605 people experiencing homelessness in the region.
For more information on DES programs and services offered in collaboration with community partners, please visit the DES website.
By Isabella Neal