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Maricopa County's homeless population is still up, but shelter capacity is increasing

Data from annual Point-in-Time counts has shown a steep rise in homelessness in Maricopa County over the past several years. But this year’s update shows the county’s capacity to provide shelter to unhoused people is increasing.

The one-day survey, which was  conducted in January, recorded 9,435 people experiencing homelessness, according to a  report released Wednesday. That’s a slight decrease from the previous year, when volunteers and outreach workers contacted a record 9,642 people without homes across the county. But the report notes there was heavy rain during this year’s count, which may have led to fewer unsheltered people being tallied on the streets.

It’s unlikely homelessness is actually down –  other data from the Maricopa Association of Governments shows people are still becoming homeless in Maricopa County almost twice as fast as homeless people are finding housing. 

Point-in-Time counts differentiate between unsheltered individuals, who are living on the streets, and sheltered homeless people, who are staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing. The data on sheltered individuals is considered to be somewhat more accurate because it is taken directly from shelters' nightly occupancy records. 

This year's count does show a record-high number of homeless people staying in shelters — 5,359 people. That's a 13% increase over 2023 and a reflection of more than 800 new shelter beds that have been added countywide just in the last year as a result of  massive spending by the state, the county and local governments, funded largely by American Rescue Plan Act federal pandemic recovery aid. 

Officials call that increase a win for the community.

“We are seeing that the investments we made in shelter are paying off,” Rachel Milne, director of the City of Phoenix Office of Homeless Solutions, said in a press release. “We know we have a long way to go still, but it’s great to see that people experiencing homelessness in our region are taking advantage of the additional shelter resources, which can be the first step for many in ending their homelessness.”

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.