The number of homeless people in Phoenix metropolitan area is declining but more people are homeless for longer periods, a new survey shows.
Since last year, homelessness has dropped 36 percent, from 2,729 homeless people in 2010 to 1,749 people this year, according to the Maricopa Association of Governments’ “point-in-time” street count, released this week.
The point-in-time surveys are done once each year to give officials at MAG, the federal government and service agencies a day’s snapshot of the local homeless population, along with an understanding of the extent of their hardship and their need for assistance.
MAG officials said counting homeless people is not a precise exercise, so the number may not accurately represent the number of homeless in the Phoenix area.
The survey results showed that since last year, the number of chronic homeless people — those homeless for long periods — spiked 28 percent since last year, from 615 people to 789 people.
The survey also showed the number of people who experienced temporary homelessness dropped 50 percent, from 1,791 people to 889, and the number of youths living on the streets by themselves decreased 65 percent, from 181 kids to 63.
Shana Ellis, a Tempe city councilwoman and chairwoman of MAG’s committee on homelessness, said the true number of homeless people probably is higher than this year’s results show.
“Some people might not have described themselves as being chronically homeless, but they are,” Ellis told The Arizona Republic. “Plus, a lot of times when you go in certain areas and when you spend a certain period of time talking to one individual, other individuals leave.”
Although officials believe much of the decrease in homelessness is real, MAG and nonprofit officials attribute it to the impact of housing programs funded by federal stimulus dollars and their new approach to the survey.
MAG now asks individuals directly whether they are homeless, instead of observing and counting everyone they guess is homeless.
This new method ensured MAG could fulfill a new federal requirement to count for the first time the homeless people who are veterans, officials said.
The Phoenix metro area has 247 homeless veterans — 14 percent of all the homeless people counted, according to the survey.
MAG officials suspect that the people they tend to miss or never see during the annual street count are homeless families.