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'It's just brutal out here': Annual homeless count in Maricopa County underway

12News went out with a counting team in Phoenix and talked with people who spent the night in the bitter cold weather.

PHOENIX — Phoenix is on pace to have thousands sleeping on the street again for this year’s Point-In-Time homeless count, an annual data collection conducted by cities and communities across Maricopa County.

The count, required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for any municipality that receives federal funding, is done once a year, usually in January.  

Last year’s count tallied more than 3,000 people sleeping on the streets in Phoenix and more than 9,000 people experiencing homelessness countywide, including people in and out of shelters. The count is considered a low estimate, and the numbers this year are expected to be even higher.

"We know there’s been an increase in homelessness across the country," said Scott Hall, Deputy Director of Phoenix's Office of Homeless Solutions. "We haven’t been immune to that."

Hall was out with his team starting around 5:30 Tuesday morning, canvassing neighborhoods from 27th to 35th avenues from Cactus to Thunderbird roads.

"Seeing anybody out on the street is unacceptable for us," Hall said.

His approach was to drive through the neighborhoods, stopping to engage with anyone who might appear unsheltered. When the team approached, they'd verify if the person or group was experiencing homelessness and ask if they wanted to take a survey to help collect demographic data on the population.

"A lot of times, its people who are on fixed incomes," Hall explained. "Severely mentally ill. Substance abuse issues. Disconnected with family. Don’t have any family. Got evicted from the rental market. You name it. It’s the whole gamut."

Behind each number is a back story.

12News spoke with a man named Sam after he took the survey. He told us he ended up on the streets after a falling out with his family.

"There’s no easy fix for that situation," Sam shared.

When we talked to him, he trying to sleep on the stoop of a church near 35th Avenue and Cactus Road. The temperatures were near freezing overnight, and he spent it lying on the stoop with a sleeping bag, hat, and blanket.

"The cement," he said. "It’s almost unbearable."

A few hundred feet away, another man popped out of his makeshift tent to participate in the count.

"It's just brutal out here," Harlan Cleavenger said. 

Harlan Cleavenger said he was thrown out of his house after a fight with his now ex-girlfriend.

"Everyone just stereotypes homeless as being drug addicts and stealing," Cleavenger stated. 'It’s not always the case."

He's sharing his encampment with a friend who said he'd been experiencing homelessness on and off for the past twenty years. Their tent is made of carts and umbrellas covered by a tarp.  

"And then we have blankets," Cleavenger said. "That's it."

They said they hadn't tried lately to go into a shelter. They also said street teams offering services have been inconsistent in their area.

"Once you’re homeless and try and get a job from the streets? Ooh, it's hard," Cleavenger shared.

The count each year is a way to map out where people need the most help and collect data that could help secure funding in the future.

City of Phoenix staff said the data collected countywide Tuesday should be available in a couple of weeks.


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