Human resources

Pinal County Homelessness Resources Recover From Pandemic Impacts, But Now More People May Be At Risk | Grace Lieberman

Genesis Project

By Grace Lieberman/NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

Affordable housing, evictions and homelessness have remained common topics nationally as the economic impacts of COVID-19 continue to be felt.

In Pinal County, data shows that the homeless population has not increased drastically. However, the pandemic has disrupted access to resources and many people are at risk of losing their homes.

Arizona had a large homeless population in pre-pandemic reports, and new county data shows the number is only growing.

A January 2020 U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness report said Arizona had approximately 10,979 homeless people at any given time.

Arizona public school data from the U.S. Department of Education also showed more than 21,000 students were homeless at some point during the 2018-19 school year.

The number of homeless people in a given area is usually determined by a “one-time” count overseen by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Organizations and volunteers usually work with local establishments and travel the area to meet homeless people and do a census. Through the survey, a count can give a general idea of ​​the number of homeless people in the area.

Spot counts usually take place annually, but were suspended in 2021 due to pandemic concerns.

Data from Maricopa County collected in January 2022 showed its homeless population had jumped 35% over the past two years.

The Maricopa Association of Governments reported 3,767 homeless residents in the county in 2020. This year, it reported that 5,029 people in the county were homeless, including 3,096 people in Phoenix.

The 2019 Pinal County report showed 136 homeless people surveyed, and 2020 data from the Arizona Department of Housing showed a total of 211 homeless people in the county.

The full 2022 report has yet to be released, but Mary Lou Rosales, executive director of the Community Action Human Resources Agency, said 217 people were counted in Pinal. She added that because some live in remote areas, the count likely missed people they couldn’t reach.

Reports from recent years show that Apache Junction and Casa Grande have higher homeless populations than other Pinal towns. Rosales said a total of 115 people were at Apache Junction and 78 at Casa Grande this year.

Pinal’s homeless population has not seen an extreme increase in the past two years, but local organizations have said access to resources has been hampered by the pandemic.

Closures caused by COVID-19 have limited access to social services and organizations that provide meals, clothing and other necessities.

Trinity Cole, president of the faith-based nonprofit Genesis Project, said local organizations are bouncing back.

“COVID has impacted everyone and everything, but many agencies and resources are back up and running, and they’re doing well,” Cole said.

Genesis Project is a soup kitchen in Apache Junction that provides essential resources including hot meals, clothing, and shower vouchers. The organization also hosts other groups in its buildings that provide services and allow people to use its address as a permanent address.

“When people are in a situation of homelessness or are just very poor and need a lot of social services at the same time, navigating those services is a very, very difficult task,” Cole said.

A report from the Arizona Department of Economic Security found that in 2021, more than 37,000 at-risk or homeless people received response services.

The department also said that while a number of state programs have proven effective, the lack of affordable housing has limited the ability to use these options. Shelters and group living situations have also been negatively impacted by necessary pandemic safety measures.

In addition to limiting services, the pandemic also puts more tenants at risk of missing payments and possibly being evicted.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings showed that 15,360 households in Pinal County spend 50% or more of their household income on housing.

Rosales said many people who come to access services are not homeless, but must choose between the goods needed to make the rent payment.

The Community Action Human Resources Agency provides a number of social services and material necessities like temporary housing. At the agency’s site in Casa Grande, Rosales said the group initially saw mostly homeless people, but others who needed help also came.

“We don’t turn anyone away. We help, whether it’s for information or water or whatever,” Rosales said.

Rosales said many people entering are not homeless, but need help to stay housed. Many people come for food, nappies or assistance so they don’t have to choose between basic necessities in order to pay their bills on time.

COVID is also just one of many factors for someone to become homeless or at risk. Besides unemployment, health problems, medical debts and domestic violence are also extremely common contributors.

A 2021 report from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab showed Arizona ranked 10th in the nation for the highest unemployment rates.

Overall, Maricopa County showed evictions have remained below historical averages since April 2020 following a now expired moratorium. In Phoenix, eviction requests were near or above averages for January, February and March 2020 before trending lower in April

Although the report does not include Pinal County, the area is experiencing its own housing challenges. While the Phoenix real estate market is booming, this is driving up prices in Pinal County.

The influx of residents has pushed the median sale price of homes in Pinal County up 33.9% from what it was a year ago, according to data from RocketHomes. The median sale price in the county in April 2022 is above $367,000, compared to around $92,000 in the same month of 2021.

Homelessness continues to weigh on communities due to worsened economic and social circumstances, but Cole said organizations are ready to give as much as they can.

At this time of year in Arizona, extreme heat is at the forefront of necessities for everyone, especially those without housing or air conditioning. Cole said hydration is the main focus in the summer and people need electrolytes as well as water to get the nourishment they need.

“Once a person experiences a heat-related incident, water alone will not suffice at that time. They need electrolytes, access to cooling centers, shade and that stuff,” Cole said.

Cole said meeting the needs of the homeless cannot be an individual effort.

“Homelessness is a community issue. It’s not something that’s going to be solved by one person or one agency,” Cole said. “We partner with anyone and everyone we can because we know there are a lot of spokes on a wheel and you need all of those spokes to make that wheel roll.”

Rosales said that although more people are facing homelessness and pandemic-era funding is running out, there are many groups and organizations that can help. On days when the agency can’t distribute meals, there are often others who can, Rosales said.

“So there are a lot of good people. And they don’t want to be rewarded or recognized, they just want to help,” Rosales said.