Most Arizonan’s have little comprehension of the homeless issues plaguing metro-Phoenix, let-alone our state.  Yeah, you see someone who appears homeless on a street corner or median with a placard claiming they are a Veteran or parent needing money.  A typical reaction is to ‘tune’ them out by focusing on something in another direction, telling yourself “someone else will help them”, or “they are pan-handling.”

I’m writing this to provide a different perspective to a perception of that person and their plight.

There are many factors that contribute to homelessness.

The most common reasons for homelessness are lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, mental illness, and substance abuse, domestic violence, trauma and adverse childhood experiences. 

A growing incident is addiction to prescription medications which quickly leads to more potent substances – Fentanyl.   It is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more-so than heroin as an analgesic (source: AMA, DEA). Why is it growing?  The medical community has contributed (though, aggressively deny it) to over-prescribing opioids for various relief from pain, post-surgical procedures and because it very rapidly eliminates pain.

Similar to other opioid analgesics, fentanyl produces effects such as: relaxation, euphoria, sedation, confusion, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea/vomiting, urinary retention, pupillary constriction, and respiratory depression.  Over-dose quickly results in death due to respiratory failure.

According to the Maricopa Association of Governments, there were 12,614 homeless individuals in Phoenix as of January 2022. 

Here’s a breakdown of the numbers:

  • 37% (4667) of the homeless population were unsheltered, meaning they lived on the streets, in cars, or in other places not meant for human habitation.
  • 11% (1388) of the homeless population are veterans & about 51% have mental health issues.
  • 22% (2775) represent families.
  • 90% of homeless children attend schools offering breakfast & lunch programs.
  • 56%+ (7064) are 50 years of age or older.
  • 26% (3280) of adults possess mental health issues.
  • 76% (9587) have, at least, one chronic health condition (hypertension, diabetes, asthma…).
  • 94%+ have NO healthcare, vision or dental support (transportation, fear, stigma, lack of I.D., industry obstacles).
  • 99%+ struggle with ready access to bathing & hygiene facilities.

Phoenix had the fourth-highest rate of unsheltered homeless individuals in the country, behind only NYC (58,000), Los Angeles (48,500), and San Francisco (13,500).

There are also many non-profit organizations and charities that provide support to homeless individuals and families, including food banks, shelters, and healthcare services.

However, despite these efforts, homelessness remains a significant issue, and more must be done to address the underlying causes of homelessness and provide support to those in need.  And more doesn’t necessarily mean more food, money, supplies, etc.  More means addressing the issues that prevent the reduction of homelessness, such as mobile hygiene & laundry stations, mobile medical & dental support, counseling and in-the-field employment support & training, and on-site legal assistance.

Resources to aid the homeless:

  • Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS)
  • Vincent de Paul – various services
  • Phoenix Rescue Mission – various services
  • Andre House – wide service range
  • Arizona Housing Coalition – promotes affordable housing & prevent homelessness through advocacy, education, and coalition-building
  • UMOM New Day Centers – provides emergency shelter, transitional housing, and support services to families with children
  • Various churches, faith-based organizations
  • The City of Phoenix Human Services Department, and Housing Department

Yet, with these and other organizations, it is insufficient to remedy the present homelessness.  A non-bureaucratic solution will work IF these organizations will leave ego at the curb.

And with the cadre of resources, the real issues are not being addressed: an un-compassionate judicial/law enforcement system, little mental health support, lack of a process to engage employment with private business, transportation, rampant drug availability, a system to bring resources to the homeless rather than expect them to get to an office, department or building they have no way of managing!

I’ve had a large number of homeless tell me they are released from County jail, in the middle of no-where (27th Ave. & Lower Buckeye Rd.), with no money, no transportation, no food, and no water.  They are given a summons to report to court on a certain date to avoid a bench warrant.  These people are homeless – the last concern they have is making a court date!  So, when they are picked-up by the police, they are returned to jail to repeat the cycle.

Over the years, I’ve visited a number of homeless areas and have come to know a number of these people.  Their stories are horrific and heart-wrenching.

I’ve learned “don’t give us money or gift cards… We’ll only use it to buy drugs…”.  I’ve learned they want to feel a bit of dignity, looked upon as a human who is having a challenging time in life.  I’ve learned they want to smile, laugh and believe in hope.  I’ve learned they want basic needs fulfilled – water, shower, liquid soap/bodywash, socks (dark), shoes, shirts, underwear, hand towels, caps, handkerchiefs, body lotion. The things we take for granted.  I buy and collect a host of items and, as frequently as possible, I will make and deliver ‘love’ bags for them.  I’ve learned what to take them and how to listen to their stories of glory and woe.

You want to do some good for our fellow man…?!  Each of us can make it better in a small, significant manner. 

Here’s a few simple suggestions:

  • Keep an ice chest in your car (temperatures are on the rise).
  • Fill it 1/2 with frozen water bottles and the remainder topped with ice.
  • Have a bag of protein bars.

So, when you stop at a signal light you have something of significance to offer them.  Then take note of the huge smile and bright eyes they will share with you upon accepting your gift… you’ll feel it in your chest, too!  And listen, to the “God Bless You” they offer in return…

 “For fear to be a King” — Emily Dickinson, We Never Know How High We Are

Research sources:

  • The 2022 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (produced by HUD);
  • The 2021 Point-in-Time Count and Survey of Homelessness in Maricopa County (Maricopa Association of Governments);
  • The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans

Submitted by:

Gil Olachea
“A Difference of Distinction”
8355 E. Butherus Dr.
Suite 4
Scottsdale, AZ 85260
P – 480.990.7074