Report Reveals Increase In Homelessness Since 2017
LAUREN GILGER: Despite those low unemployment rates we just heard about, more Americans are homeless this year than they were in 2017. That's according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — HUD — that found that more than 550,000 people experienced homelessness on a single night in 2018. For Arizona that night was Jan. 22. Volunteers fanned out around the Valley for the annual point-in-time homeless count. This year they found nearly 10,000 homeless people making it — marking a 10 percent rise year over year. So how does the HUD report reflect what's happening here on the ground in Arizona? And, have we made any dent in the homeless numbers in the Valley since January? For more on that we're joined in studio now by Joan Serviss, executive director of the Arizona Housing Coalition. Good morning, Joan.
JOAN SERVISS: Good morning, thanks for having me.
GILGER: So let's start with the increase here. When you saw this, this was almost a year ago now when we did the point in time homeless count and saw this increase, what was behind it then?
SERVISS: It’s the same that we're experiencing today at this point. We're seeing stagnant wages and rental increases. There's just not enough affordable places to call home.
GILGER: So this has to do with affordable housing. And, rents have continued to go up over the year. So when we do this again in January next year, any sense of where will stand if we've made any dent?
SERVISS: I don't think that we'll see a significant decrease. The reality is is that many states across the coast are experiencing an increase in folks experiencing homelessness and an affordability crisis since 2014. You know as you mentioned the numbers since 2014, we've seen a staggering 149 percent increase of folks living on the streets. So unsheltered, some not in shelters. And that's a significant increase and that's due primarily to the fact that there's just ... — the shelters are at capacity, there's limited resources for our nonprofit partners. And the you know wages have not kept up and rental and housing prices continue to increase.
GILGER: So people not even in shelters, people living on the street is that right? What I wonder if eviction rates have anything to do with this. We've heard that stat multiple times eviction rates in Arizona are going up and are very high.
SERVISS: Yes. You know, the reality is that we're in a hot rental market and you know so folks that might receive some sort of government assistance might be impacted by the evictions. And, the reality is is that you know you see it all across the landscape of the downtown Phoenix area — market rate apartments continuing to rise and rise and rise. And one would think that there's a trickle down to you know maybe the B or C properties, but the reality is that doesn't that doesn't exist. What happens is that those landlords continue to increase the rent. But, the landlords are good partners. You know, they're partners in this equation. You know we obviously need to have a safe roof for all, but you know there are some issues that need to be worked out. I think the big thing is how can we involve the legal system into helping address this issue.
GILGER: Yeah. OK, so let's talk about resources then. You said there are limited resources, shelters are at capacity, nonprofits are tapping out at a certain point here. This is a HUD report. This is a federal report. How much of that solution could come from the federal government?
SERVISS: Well, you know, Congress has continued to provide a 10 percent increase in the HUD budget for fiscal year 2018. But, we need to see more of an investment. But, the Housing Choice Voucher program, are National Housing Trust Fund and primarily we at the Arizona Housing Coalition what we advocate for is more of a statewide investment. Whereas you know as the state of Arizona, we're contributing about $5 million to address housing and homelessness in our state. That's paltry, especially as we're dealing with this issue. That's not enough. We have you know some proven solutions on the table, but we need to restore some of the funds that were swept from the last recession.
GILGER: What are those solutions?
SERVISS: So some of the solutions the one that we advocate for is a restoration of the State Housing Trust Fund, which is a fund which receives proceeds from unclaimed property. It was at its heyday about $30 to $40 million. With the Great Recession, it was swept a $2.5 million. When it was at its heyday, you know it was very responsive to community need. It you know created eviction programs, repaired dilapidated homes in the rural communities, helped people in shelters, helped prevent homelessness and then obviously served as a first time homebuyer program. So we need to have that fund restored.
GILGER: All right. That's Joan Serviss, executive director of the Arizona Housing Coalition. Joan, thank you so much for coming in this morning.
SERVISS: Thanks for having me.
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