Counting the homeless

 by Leia Cumberland
Special to the Web Devil
 published on Friday, April 9, 2004

A recent count of Tempe's homeless shows there are more people living on the streets than in 2003. Tempe's homeless coordinator, Theresa James, is not sure whether the numbers are accurate because last years count was during bad weather.

"It was stormy when we counted in 2003," said James. "We saw shopping carts, full with things and other indications a homeless person was around but didn't see the person and couldn't count them in the calculation."

The tally was done by volunteers who were invited by the city of Tempe who have knowledge of the homeless. The Tempe police also helped since they have information of where homeless people generally are. The city was divided up and canvassed by the volunteers where they counted every homeless person and their gender also if they were a youth, and in a family, said James.

"The count is a requirement to get U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money. It is added together with other cities in Maricopa County homeless counts and submitted as an application to HUD. HUD requires the cities to develop a continuum of care where cities get together and plan because their resources are limited," said James. "Last year Maricopa County received 16 million dollars for homeless relief."

Some programs funded by the money are a domestic violence shelter for women and children, the East Valley Homeless Shelter for men, Tempe Community Action Agency which is for people and families on the verge of homelessness, and Tumbleweed; a program for youths.

This year there was a total of 194 homeless people compared with 169 last year. Of those 145 were single men, up from 121 last year. There were 32 single women from 28 last year. Nine male youths were counted up from five last year and five female youths compared with nine last year, as well as one family compared with two families from 2003.

"I have been asked for money many times and I have only been in Tempe for two days," said Jenny Rodenbush, a student at UC Santa Barbara visiting Tempe on her spring break. "I can't believe how many homeless people are along Mill Avenue."

Another problem with help for the homeless is resources are scarce for people with mental illness or drug and alcohol addiction. "People who live on the street are usually mentally ill and or drug users, and need treatment as well as housing. We need to look at how to get them off the streets and into shelters for treatment," said James
"Most shelters won't even admit someone actively using drugs or alcohol and most shelters test, because they won't fit into the shelter system otherwise" said James.

Homeless men tend to be the people with the most serious mental illness, with drug or alcohol abuse problems. "Only a few shelters are prepared to deal with and treat mental illness," said James.

A 10-year homeless plan is currently being worked on. A list is being compiled of people who will look at what the community offers the homeless, what works, what doesn't and what they can do better.

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