At dawn Tuesday, dozens of volunteers swept across Pima County for three hours looking for homeless men, women and children who spent the night under bushes, in a wash, in the desert, on a bus bench or huddled under a tarp in an alley.
About 885 homeless people were counted in the Tucson area between 5 and 8 a.m. The number was expected to grow when the count from outlying areas come in. The figures for Green Valley, Sahuarita and Catalina weren’t in by late afternoon, said Settle Madden, spokeswoman for the Tucson Planning Council for the Homeless, which has conducted the annual count since the mid-1990s.
The 2008 homeless street count was conducted by dozens of volunteers from about 50 agencies, including Tucson police, who drove or bicycled through 22 sections of the city and county for three hours. They investigated washes and tunnels on foot.
The numbers are used by the council in applications for funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to pay for transitional housing for homeless people, emergency shelter beds and to apply for other funds for support services from Arizona, Pima County, Tucson, private funders and other federal government agencies.
Last year, 3,109 homeless people were counted on the street, in shelters, at the Pima County Jail and in hospitals.
Leslie Carlson is coordinating the carrying out of the city-county Plan to End Homelessness, announced in fall 2006.
She said that based on last year’s homeless count, Pima County needs 580 more emergency shelter beds, 180 more beds for homeless people who need transitional housing while they work and save money to pay rent, and 465 permanent “supportive housing” beds for people with addictions, mental illness or both and who need a place to live and support services.
“One of the most important strategies for ending homelessness is to be able to move people into housing and provide them with support services that will help them maintain a stable lifestyle,” Carlson said.
“It’s much more humane and much less costly to have people helped into housing,” she said. “They’re better able to find a job, work on substance abuse problems, mental illness. It’s easier to comply with a treatment plan and stay on medications if you have housing.”
Counters look for clues that indicate “chronic homelessness:” someone pushing a grocery cart filled with possessions or carrying a bedroll and plastic bags stuffed with dirty clothes.
Counts of homelessness
in Pima County
Street count 642 1,099
In shelters 693 687
In transitional housing 1,938 2,010
Source: Tucson Planning Council for the Homeless