The rapid increase in home prices in Arizona negatively impacted people who were already struggling. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently released its annual homelessness assessment report to Congress. Based on the report, while homelessness increased by only 1% nationwide between 2020 and 2022, in Arizona it increased by a whopping 23.4%! In addition, Arizona is one of the 5 states with the highest concentration of people experiencing homelessness, with 59% of them being unsheltered (meaning they live in their car or on the street).
In Tucson, I have seen a stark increase in the number of encampments. The pictures I'm including here are of encampments in the Arroyo Chico wash, right by our house.
How We Got Here
Homelessness Crisis - initially published in my Jan 2023 newsletter
While this is a really complex issue, the main culprit seems to be a lack of housing. Arizona experienced rapid growth over the past three years as a lot of people moved here from out of state, while the supply of affordable housing did not increase much. We have also seen many houses being converted to expensive rentals by corporate investors, and to short-term vacation rentals.
According to the director of the Arizona Department of Housing, "[w]e can have all the money we could possibly use. We could have all the vouchers we could possibly use. But if we don’t have the units to actually house people, that money is basically worthless." As of November, the State was short roughly 270,000 housing units.
In addition, the fentanyl crisis, the end of the moratorium on evictions, and layoffs have compounded the issue.
National and State Responses
At the federal level, the Biden administration announced in December its plan to reduce homelessness by 25% by 2025 in its Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. The strategy includes increasing the supply of shelter space and providing more resources for prevention and reduction of of homelessness. The plan also encourages state and local governments to come up with their own goals.
Here in Arizona, in an acknowledgment of the crisis, then governor-elect Katie Hobbs had submitted her own housing plan. The central tenet of the plan is to make housing in Arizona more affordable. The five goals are as follows:
Empower local communities to build more affordable housing
Cut needless bureaucracy and unleash American innovation
Protect Arizonans and address core reasons for rising housing costs
Fix the homelessness crisis in a comprehensive manner
Lower costs for renters and homeowners
Tucson Homeless Encampment Protocol
The City of Tucson, for its part, has initiated a homeless encampment protocol and reporting tool. The Housing and Community Development (HCD) Outreach receives the reports, and assesses what City department should be involved. The potential actions include outreach, clean up and, if there is criminal activity, enforcement.
While there is no quick fix, there is hope that the actions being taken at the federal, state and local levels will help curb the housing shortage and resulting homelessness for the most vulnerable among us.