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Volunteers Ready for Arizona's Annual Homeless Count

PHOTO: Estimates from a year ago put Arizona's homeless population at 28,000. A new statewide count is scheduled for next Wednesday. CREDIT: AZ Central
PHOTO: Estimates from a year ago put Arizona's homeless population at 28,000. A new statewide count is scheduled for next Wednesday. CREDIT: AZ Central
January 25, 2013

PHOENIX – Whether on the streets, in alleyways or in the river bottom, thousands of Arizonans spend their days looking for a place to sleep for the night.

And next Wednesday, hundreds of volunteers will fan out across the state to find those without a home for the annual Point in Time Homeless Count.

Amy St. Peter, human services and special projects manager with the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), says the count will take place in the early morning hours between five and nine.

"For the first time we'll be asking them some questions about their background, some of the challenges that they're experiencing, so we can better understand homelessness," St. Peter says.

MAG is coordinating the homeless count in Maricopa County, with other agencies covering the rest of the state. Point-in-time counts are held nationwide in January, and are required for homelessness programs that receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

St. Peter says homeless families tend to be under-counted because they make every attempt to stay hidden in an effort to keep their children safe. Youth also are difficult to count accurately.

"If you walk up to a homeless youth who's on the streets and ask them how old they are, they'll probably tell you that they're 18,” St. Peter says, “even if they're perhaps years younger than that, because they don't want to be returned to CPS (Child Protective Services) or to the home that they ran away from. So there are many young, homeless people that we think may be under the age of 18, but we can't tell."

Volunteers for the homeless count have been receiving training this week. St. Peter says special measures are taken to make sure those volunteers stay safe.

"For people who have not participated in the street count before as a volunteer, they're going out with outreach teams or law enforcement,” she explains. “And in the areas where there's perhaps a higher density of people who are homeless, or areas that some might perceive as being less safe, we're sending very experienced people in."

The most recent estimates put the number of Arizona homeless at 28,000. Roughly half of those are in the Phoenix area, with another 35 percent in metro Tucson.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ