PIMA CO., Ariz. (KGUN) — Homelessness in Pima County has been a growing concern for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic may have heightened the issue.
“We made a lot of changes. One, we saw a sharp decrease in shelter availability. We had around 770 beds prior to the pandemic, and then it was reduced down to about 25% of that, which created a lack of beds,” said Liz Morales, the city of Tucson’s Housing and Community Development director.
Morales says one response was to create a hotel program last year. That program added 300 beds and gave the homeless a non-congregate place to isolate in if sick.
Now, shelter capacity is increasing again, but Morales says, not nearly at the same levels.
“We know there's probably some new homelessness that has occurred, but what we did see is a lot of those that were usually out of sight are now more visible to our community,” said Morales.
She says Pima County does have funding available to help with this issue. With an increase in funding from the CARES Act and money coming from the American Rescue Plan, she says the county is going to be ramping up efforts.
“One of the things we really need is help from our landlords in the Community. Because a lot of the assistance we have our what we call ‘tenant-based rental assistance,’ so we rely on our landlords in our community, to help us find shelter and find housing for the individuals and families,” said Morales.
According to U.S. Housing and Urban Development, Arizona saw 10,979 homeless individuals - adults and children - in 2020.
According to the city of Tucson’s Department of Housing and Community Development, Pima County saw 3,193 homeless people in 2020.
There has yet to be a count for 2021 because the annual point-in-time count was suspended due to the pandemic. So the new question is, “How many are new to the system and how many of them are actually connecting to our housing system or homeless system? That's the part where we're working really hard is especially around the eviction moratorium. We're really trying to stop people from going from being evicted to going into homelessness,” said Morales.
The point-in-time count is scheduled to resume in January 2022 and will update the state and county on how many people are homeless.
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