Rates of Arizona’s homeless veterans on the decline

As many as 29,000 individuals and families experience homelessness in Arizona on any given night, according to the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness.

The Department of Housing and Development defines homelessness as lacking a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. Under those requirements, the Arizona Department of Economic Security estimated approximately 36,492 adults and children experienced homelessness in 2015. Using data from the U.S. Census, the AZDES also estimated that after the Arizona population rose 1.6 percent, one in 184 Arizona residents experienced homelessness.

The AZCEH cites multiple causes of homelessness in Arizona including domestic violence, chronic health conditions, mental health issues, and substance abuse. According to the organization’s annual report on homelessness in the state of Arizona, single adults account for 65 percent of the population and families with children account for 34 percent. The AZCEH also said that over 25 percent of the homeless population is U.S. veterans.

However, the AZDES states that the rates of homelessness amongst veterans are on the decline. According to the department’s annual report, the rate of homeless veterans in Arizona has decreased by 78 percent. The AZDES said that this is in part thanks to various supportive services and initiative projects, including the AZCEH’s Arizona StandDown Alliance.

Shane Groen, the AZCEH’s special initiatives director, said that the StandDown Alliance is intended to unite and support various homelessness housing initiatives around Arizona.

“The Arizona Veterans StandDown Alliance is in the 501c3 of the coalition and financially supports other events,” Groen said. “In return, we get accurate data on the homeless and at-risk veteran population statewide, which we report to the Arizona Department of Economic Security.”

Part of the data on the homeless population is also gathered through an annual event called the “Point-In-Time (PIT) Count.” The one-night street count helps the AZCEH determine the rates of people experiencing homelessness in Arizona as well as identify the characteristics and issues that affect the population.

Esteban Flores, a detective at the Mesa Police Department, said the homeless population is only tracked by law enforcement if the individuals are involved in a crime, whether as suspects, witnesses or victims. Flores also said that the Mesa Police Department does not take responsibility for alleviating the issue of homelessness, noting, “The job of reducing homelessness does not fall on police departments, it falls on other governmental agencies and private, social and religious organizations.”

Groen has also managed “Project H3 VETS” for the past four years, an initiative that has housed nearly 300 chronically homeless veterans in Maricopa County. The term “chronically homeless” is used to describe individuals who have experienced homelessness more than four times in the past three years, or for a continuous period of one year or longer. The AZDES also said that the chronically homeless are more prone to have a disabling medical, mental or addictive condition.

Besides transitional and permanent housing, the StandDown alliance also connects homeless and at-risk veterans to services like emergency shelters, health care, municipal court services and legal aide, and mental health services.

Groen said the alliance holds several events at various locations across the state, including its largest event held at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Maricopa County. The annual three-day event provided shelter beds and basic needs like food, clothing, shoes, hygiene products, and use of restroom facilities to the 1,693 homeless veterans in attendance. The AZDES also stated that pets of the veterans received vaccinations and checkups during the event.

Groen said that a goal of the AZCEH is for the state of Arizona to be at a “functional zero”, meaning there are more people being housed than there are homeless individuals. The AZCEH stated that in 2013, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and Senator John McCain announced a plan for the Arizona homeless population to achieve that functional zero. Once Groen’s “Project H3 VETS” began, the initiative yielded a 93 percent success rate for housing homeless veterans and reaching the functional zero status.

“It has been a driving factor in Phoenix, being able to claim we have reached what is called functional zero with our chronically homeless population,” Groen said. “We still have homeless veterans on our streets, but we are working hard to get that number to functional zero as well.”

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