The causes and factors that lead to homelessness are very complex. Economic factors such as job losses, evictions, foreclosures and lack of affordable housing are only a part of the problem. Social issues including drug addiction, physical and mental health illness, and domestic violence also contribute greatly to those who end up on the streets. Addressing and treating these underlying causes of homelessness requires not only multiple strategies and services, but a long-term commitment by communities to do what is needed to restore individuals experiencing homelessness to health, independence and wholeness.
Homelessness in Arizona
According to the Department of Economic Security’s Homelessness in Arizona Annual Report 2012, one in every 230 Arizonans (over 28,000 individuals) experienced homelessness in Arizona during 2012. This reflects an increase of 12.8% from 2011. Of this, 32% of the homeless population reported experiencing multiple stays in emergency or transitional housing. Single adults account for 80% of the adult homeless population, and the great majority are male.
Of those reported, just under half (43%) stated living with physical or mental disabilities, while 21% stated experiencing drug and/or alcohol abuse. Again, these underlying factors are often at the core of those living on the streets, and only compound the problem of homelessness.
Increasingly, families represent the fastest growing segment of homelessness in the United States. Approximately half of the homelessness population in Arizona is comprised of families with dependent children, which is disproportionately higher than the national statistic of 37%. Job loss, eviction, and domestic violence are often the drivers of homeless families, and single mothers with young children in particular.
Families experiencing homelessness move frequently between shelters, overcrowded apartments, and temporary arrangements with relatives or friends. This high mobility is traumatic, particularly for children and youth. Lack of consistency, routines, privacy, safety, health care, uninterrupted schooling, and a sense of community make it extremely difficult for children and youth to flourish socially, emotionally, and academically. Children and youth experiencing homelessness are twice as likely to experience hunger, have moderate to severe acute and chronic health problems, and repeat a grade in school. In addition to assistance with housing, employment, and income, families experiencing homelessness often need support with child care, school enrollment, transportation, recreation, and parenting.
Over 42% of those who experience homelessness for the first time in Arizona do so because of a job loss, foreclosure or eviction. Simply providing rental assistance without the assessment and coordination of stabilization services is a Band-Aid that often doesn’t stick. Therefore, prevention strategies and wrap-around support services including job training and search assistance are crucial parts of a comprehensive effort to bring those back to solid ground and self-sufficiency. Special initiatives and collaborations between state, county, and city agencies, together with community groups, churches, and nonprofit organizations, are working to meet the multi-dimensional needs of homeless individuals and families.
The Arizona Commission on Homelessness and Housing was established in 2010. It serves as the statewide homelessness planning and policy development resource for the Governor and the State, and oversees the implementation and progress of the State Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.
The Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness is a leader in statewide efforts to end homelessness in Arizona through advocacy, education, and coordination of special projects with local communities. The AZCEH’s primary goals include 1) working with local communities to monitor and advocate federal laws and policies that affect homeless individuals, families, and service providers; 2) promoting knowledge and awareness about homelessness, its causes, and effective interventions through distribution of information to service providers; and 3) convening collaborative groups of service providers, business representatives, local governments, faith based organizations, and volunteers to coordinate initiatives throughout the state that are focused on ending homelessness. Each year the AZCEH hosts an Annual Statewide Conference on Homelessness.
AZ Dept. of Economic Security, Homelessness in Arizona Annual Report 2012
AZ Coalition to End Homelessness