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Homeless FAQ

a sign banning sitting or lying on sidewalks at 'the zone' homeless encampment in downtown phoenix
Tim Agne/KJZZ
A sign banning sitting or lying on sidewalks at "The Zone" homeless encampment in downtown Phoenix.

While reporting on the series Homeless in Plain Sight, KJZZ reporters compiled a list of frequently asked questions and answers surrounding the topic of homelessness.

What are the most common causes of homelessness?
While each person and family has its own stories there are common themes around the issue of homelessness. They include: lack of affordable housing, poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, physical disabilities and health problems.

Is there an official definition of homelessness?
Different groups use different definitions to determine eligibility for various programs. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which provides about $26 million in annual funding to the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), defines an individual who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence as homeless. HUD’s definition includes a detailed explanation you can read here.

How does Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) spend the money?
As the lead agency responsible for developing regional solutions, MAG follows federal guidelines when it comes to awarding federal dollars to more than 40 local programs. You can see MAG’s funding list here.

HUD wants communities to focus on two areas: rapid re-housing which includes short-term help like utility or rent assistance and permanent, supportive housing which can involve a lifetime of services and housing for the chronically homeless.

What is chronic homelessness?
Simply put, chronic homelessness is long-term or repeated episodes of homelessness, combined with a disability. HUD defines a chronically homeless person as “either (1) an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more, OR (2) an unaccompanied individual with a disabling condition who has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.”

What does ‘ending homelessness’ mean?
First, let’s explain what it does not mean. Ending homeless does not mean no one will ever become homeless again. Instead, it means that every community will have a comprehensive program in place to ensure that homelessness is either prevented or it is a brief and non-recurring experience.

Are panhandlers homeless?
Some may be homeless. Others are not. Courts have ruled that panhandling is considered free speech and generally legal when conducted on public property as long as it doesn't impact public safety or transit. It is illegal in the state of Arizona to “aggressively” panhandle and the city of Phoenix prohibits standing on street medians citing public safety. Many advocates who work with people experiencing homelessness discourage giving to panhandlers and suggest giving to social service agencies and charities that work directly with those in need.

How can I help?
You can volunteer your time or money with organizations that work with individuals and families that are homeless. From serving meals to creating “Welcome Home” starter kits, you can find more information at this page created by the city of Phoenix’s and these resources compiled by Downtown Phoenix Inc.

As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.