Over 60 volunteers gathered in the early, cold morning last week to help count the homeless in Glendale.
Volunteers gathered at a city office at 5 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, to be part of the “point-in-time count,” a yearly census of the homeless population. The volunteers were asked to interact with as many homeless individuals as possible, ask them questions and offer services.
The volunteers gathered when the sun was still down and nobody was out in the streets. It was a chilly morning at 48 degrees, but they quickly got to work. Volunteers were divided into groups and set out to cover the city.
Last January, volunteers counted 194 unsheltered people in Glendale. That is nearly five times the 44 unsheltered people counted in 2016. In 2017, 57 unsheltered people were counted. The number of unsheltered spiked to 164 in 2018.
Glendale’s rise in homeless reflects a countywide trend. In 2019, the number of homeless people increased in Maricopa County for the sixth straight year, according to the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG). The counts are submitted annually to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which uses the information to allocate and prioritize funding for homeless programs.
In Glendale and other cities, the annual count utilized volunteer teams including city, town, county and state representatives; community and faith-based organizations; businesses; and private residents.
For the first time, the annual count was conducted electronically using a cell phone application.
Paul Denial, supervisor of Glendale’s Revitalization department, helped organize the count.
“Today’s purpose is to go out and canvas the community and locate people who appear to be homeless and to engage them, talk to them, find out some demographic information and offer some support and assistance,” Denial said.
Denial said the volunteers were trained on how to approach the individuals and remain safe. He said the count is important as it allows the city to understand how relevant the problem of homelessness is.
“It’s important we have a good and realistic understanding of what the homeless issue is in our community,” Denial said. “We have a lot of incidental information about what is going on in the homeless community, but if we go out today and we are able to count and get some hard numbers, then we’ll be able to understand the true significance.”
Matthew Hess, administrator in Glendale’s Revitalization Department, said the count is important for several reasons.
“Not only do you have the total number of homeless, but some of the issues, age, demographics, health situations being experienced by the homeless,” Hess said.
Hess said the city coordinated on the count with the Glendale Police Department and community services like Phoenix Rescue Mission.
When homeless people were contacted, volunteers offered community services and a bag of toiletries.
After the outreach, Hess said his group did not encounter any homeless individuals but did come across two small camps. He said the camps were made from old materials and were dirty.
Hess said, this year, the point-in-time count ran smoothly because they began administering the survey by using tablets and phones.
In addition, Hess said a new question they focused on revolved around foster care. They wanted to know how many, if any, individuals had gone through the foster care system in their youth.
“There’s just more talk about issues surrounding children aging out of foster care,” Hess said. “It’s not something that’s always been at the top of people’s consciousness when they’re talking about assisting homeless people.”
He said it can be common for foster children to become homeless if they are forced into the streets once they turn 18.
Hess was not able to provide a number of total homeless individuals in Glendale, but he did say at least 100 were counted. This year’s count will be released by MAG in the spring, he said.
Hess said his group was out in the field for roughly three hours. As the volunteers returned, some of them were tired but most were in good spirits with smiles on their faces.
City staff said they were proud of the efforts of community volunteers.
“It just reinforces how compassionate some people can be that a lot of folks come out in the middle of the night to organize and walk around to help those who are less fortunate,” Hess said.