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Exclusive: The growing homeless crisis in Tucson

Homeless camps.jpg
Posted at 7:23 AM, Dec 15, 2020
and last updated 2021-01-26 14:12:50-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Homeless camps have been popping up around Tucson. Many KGUN 9 viewers asked what is being done to help all those people.

KGUN 9 asked the city and they referred us to the Tucson Police Department's homeless outreach team that started its mission in February.

As outreach officers arrive at a camp near downtown Tucson they see a shower created by a Camelback, a laundry area made out of old crates and tarps, and tents used for shelter.

The officers greet homeless people and let them know they aren't in any trouble.

"No trouble or nothing— I’m not doing warrant checks. I'm not here to arrest anybody,” Officer Josh Parrish reassures a homeless man just waking up.

There are more than 100 homeless camps around Tucson and every week the team of three visits 30 to 50 homeless camps.

Behind what may look like a trashed alleyway or wash are people who don't have a place to call home.

Homeless camps are popping up all across Tucson
Homeless camps have been popping up around Tucson and many KGUN 9 viewers are asking what is being done.

“A lot of people just see them and pass by them and, and don't realize their situations or [that they're] people too. They feel they're down and out. Honestly, they live in some pretty rough conditions and face some pretty rough things,” said Officer Jacob Valenzuela.

The officers were able to hand out more than a dozen food supply and hygiene kits made by Chief Magnus and his family during their first two stops of the day.

At a camp on the east side, officers met Brett. He told KGUN 9 he has been homeless for the past three years.

“I mean, it's hard. [It's] not easy. I'm sure people probably think like when we're living, rent-free or whatever, but I mean, it's not easy," said Brett.

He is working on his goal to secure housing. He has already worked with outreach workers to fill out a VI-SPDAT form, which starts the process for homeless people to gain housing, help with substance abuse, and more.

Officers ask every homeless person they encounter if they want to or have already filled out the form.

“We've already dealt with them previously. So, we [called] Annette from city housing out here and she was able to check on their status. They're still waiting but they did take some of our blankets and some of the hygiene kits veered off,” explained Officer Valenzuela.

Across town, officers also met Oscar. He’s only been on the streets for two to three months.

“I lost my job and I didn’t have money to pay rent to I ended up on the street,” he explained.

Oscar told KGUN 9 he’d take work if it was offered to him, but denied help from officers.

“We're seeing that the people who are getting forced out of their housing due to the pandemic circumstances, they're out here as well,” explained Officer Valenzuela.

Although the homeless outreach team has only met a handful of people affected by the pandemic so far, that number could grow as the new year approaches because eviction assistance is set to expire.

As officers continue their mission to solve Tucson's growing homeless crisis, they ask for the community's patience.

“Their situation isn't always what we think it is and sometimes they're going through a lot,” explained Officer Valenzuela.

If you’d like to learn more or help out you can reach out to the Tucson police department’s homeless outreach unit at tpdhot@tucsonaz.gov.