Homelessness
in the Valley of the Sun

Every day, more than 7,000 people in Maricopa County have no place to call home.

“I didn’t know how to be homeless.”

That’s what Mark said after coming to the Phoenix Rescue Mission. The day before, he had been digging through a dumpster for food.

Who does know how to be homeless? Who wants to know?

It’s impossible to say exactly how many homeless people are in the Phoenix area. Homelessness in Phoenix was on the rise even before the pandemic – so it’s important to note that the numbers below don’t reflect the people who suddenly found themselves homeless because of evictions of other life-altering circumstances due to COVID-19.  

The truth is, homelessness can look a lot like any of us. It can happen to anyone, anytime. Sometimes it’s a result of circumstances beyond our control — job loss, divorce, domestic violence, mental illness or medical bills. Sometimes it’s a result of one’s own harmful personal choices — most often, substance abuse or addiction. And most recently, it can be because of a pandemic, forcing those who lost livelihoods and struggled to maintain housing onto the streets.

In Numbers

A recent PIT (Point in Time) report was conducted in January 2020, part of a national effort to identify the extent of homelessness across the country. Here is what was found:

  • On a given night, at least 7,419 people experience homelessness in Maricopa County –  this is an 11% increase from the year prior
  • For the first time, the percentage of people living on the streets (51%) rose above the number living in shelters (49%)  
  • Arizona is among the top 5 states in the nation for lack of affordable housing options for residents living below the federal poverty line  
  • In the first nine months of 2020, more than 500 people experiencing homelessness died - and almost all of their deaths were preventable (ex: overdose, heatstroke, malnutrition)
  • In the last three years, the unsheltered homelessness rate in Phoenix increased by 58%. In the East Valley, it increased by 129% and it went up by 219% in the West Valley 
  • The number of chronically homeless has significantly increased by 119% from 2015-2020*  
  • The numbers of families experiencing homelessness decreased by 12% in the last five years** 
*Chronically homeless is defined as a person who has experienced homelessness for at least a year while struggling with a disabling condition (mental health, physical disability, substance use disorder).
**Report note: This number is considered a likely undercount as it only documents individuals in emergency or transitioning housing, and does not take into account families who have a tendency to stay in vehicles or other hidden locations. Additionally, it was a particularly cold evening the night the report was conducted, so families were likely to seek shelter that night.

7,419 Number of people experiencing homelessness on a given night

12th Arizona’s rank for homelessness in the US by population in 2021 

83% Increase of unsheltered homelessness in Maricopa County from 2017-2020 

Frequently Asked Questions

Drug and alcohol addiction and mental health illness continue to be primary causes of homelessness, especially when a person does not have a safety net to care for them, such as family or close friends.

Compounding that issue is a lack of affordable housing. Renters in Arizona need to earn an hourly wage of $16.97 to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment. The cost of living is on the rise in Arizona, but wages are not.

Based on the 2020 Point-In-Time count, there are a wide variety of people who are experiencing homelessness, including:

Gender:

  • Male: 4,516
  • Female: 2,882
  • Transgender/Gender Non-Conforming: 21

Race:

  • White: 61%
  • Black/African-American: 27%
  • Asian: 1%
  • American Indian/Alaska Native: 7%
  • Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander: 1%
  • Multiple: 4%

Ethnicity:

  • Non-Hispanic/Non-Latino: 80%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 20%

Age:

  • Adults (25+ years): 5,646
  • Youth (18-24 years): 530
  • Children (0-17 years): 1,243

In 2020, it was recorded that 548 families (households with at least one adult and one child) were experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County. Within those families, there were 1,243 children reported to be homeless within the ages of 0-17 years old.  

The simplified definition of homelessness is that a person does not have a consistent, livable place to call their own. Take children and families for example. If families are doubled up (living temporarily with another family), living in shelters (which includes foster care), or temporarily living in cars or hotels, the people in those families are each considered to be "homeless." The number of people on street corners and under bridges is a low percentage of the total homeless population. 

At the Mission, we serve all of these people, but we are especially passionate about reaching those who are living unsheltered on the streets.

As a result of the complex nature of providing solutions that address the growing numbers of individuals experiencing homelessness, the City of Phoenix has developed a plan to address a variety of challenges and work with community partners to provide solutions. Focus areas include outreach and resources, mental health, workforce development, housing, community clean-up, communication on strategies, policy changesand neighborhood impacts. In addressing these target areas, the city plans to work with various agencies, groups, and departments to collectively make an impact on the many lives impacted by homelessness.

Read the full report here.

At Phoenix Rescue Mission, we are committed to being a light in our community – bringing hope to the hopeless.

Whether through homeless outreach, food assistance, or addiction recovery – we find people living in the shadows and bring light to their darkness.

We have a passion to bring long-term, life-transforming solutions to the problems of hunger, homelessness, and addiction. We continue to test new concepts, strengthen existing programs, and build strategic partnerships for the betterment of our community and the care of our neighbors.

At Phoenix Rescue Mission, we are committed to the idea that no one has lived too long in the dark to where the light of restoration is not possible.

We are committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His life-transforming power.

We are committed to doing whatever it takes to be a light to our community – which is why we invite you to help ignite the flame of hope at Phoenix Rescue Mission.

When it comes to homelessness, Arizona, Maricopa County, and Phoenix have a serious problem. But the Phoenix Rescue Mission is making a difference.

Please join us on the journey with your support today!

"The Mission saved my life”

“I had never heard of the Phoenix Rescue Mission,” says Mark, who had been digging through dumpsters before coming to us for help. “But now I credit them with saving my life.”

Mark’s story is not unique. By God’s grace, and with the support of friends like you, the Mission has helped transform the lives of thousands over the decades. Programs and services include:

  • Rescue-Assess-Place Intake Case Management
  • Residential Addiction Recovery Programs
  • Changing Lives Center for Women & Children
  • Vocational Development & Education
  • Hope Coach Mobile Street Outreach
  • Hope for Hunger Food Bank
  • Spiritual Recovery
  • Program Alumni Aftercare & Support

What Your Support Does

Your gift to the Phoenix Rescue Mission brings our city and community one step closer to wholeness as lives are transformed one person at a time. Food, shelter, clothing, education, addiction recovery, job training, and spiritual renewal — all because of friends like you.

Should I Give Money to a Panhandler?

How do you respond when you encounter a homeless person holding a sign, asking for money? Phoenix Rescue Mission has a list of five easy tips along with Rescue Referral cards for just such a situation. First, be prepared . . .

Volunteer. Transform a Life.

There’s a spot waiting for you as a volunteer! No matter your skills or talents, no matter how much time you’ve got, whether you’re an individual or part of a group . . . you can begin to transform a life today. Contact us, and we’ll plug you in when you’re ready to roll.