homeless families

Homelessness Epidemic in Phoenix


originally published pre-COVID

he ills of homelessness and poverty affect our entire community, as the Phoenix area has grown to 2nd in the nation in extreme poverty rates.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lack of leadership from City Hall when it comes to partnering with charitable organizations and increasing efficiencies when it comes to caring for those most in need.

I spoke about poverty and homelessness ad nauseum during the 2018 Mayor’s race and many of the potential solutions to this problem came from organizations like the Phoenix Rescue Mission.

Recently, we were fortunate to sit down with the Community Relationship Manager of Phoenix Rescue Mission, Pamela Morrison, to answer your questions and get valuable insights to this serious problem.

What is Homelessness?

The definition of homelessness simply states “a state of not having a home”, but we know it is a deeper, much more complicated situation.  Homelessness can be someone living in a car, the streets, or couch surfing. Some who experience homelessness are employed, but do not meet their living expenses. Many people with limited income also lack financial literacy.

Homelessness does not define a person but is instead a temporary situation or should be, but unfortunately, there are many who experience homelessness for multiple years.

Pamela Morrison, PRM
What is homelessness? Phoenix Narrative,

Homelessness affects all races, genders, ages, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds. Some contributing factors to homelessness include chronic poverty, job loss and underemployment, a lack of affordable housing, mental illness, addiction, and domestic violence.

In your estimation, how many homeless people are in the City of Phoenix?

It is difficult to be exact with these numbers since many people experiencing homelessness are not responsive to surveys and questions, but it is estimated that in the State of Arizona 25,832 people are experiencing homelessness with the largest percentage residing in Maricopa County.  The most recent report shows again estimated numbers of 4,342 people residing in shelters and 1,289 on the streets.

How many people does your organization help on a daily basis?

We are serving the needs of up to 20 clients daily through the efforts of our Street Outreach teams.  

We are able to offer 11 people a connection to work through our Glendale Works Program each day. This partnership with the City of Glendale allows us to reach out to people experiencing homelessness and offer them a day of work for pay.  This group performs work for the City of Glendale such as cleaning up the parks, streets, and alleys in the City of Glendale.

This program allows us to come alongside the individual and work one-on-one to address their needs. We can help replace lost documents, help reconnect them to Medical or Behavioral Health Services, and if necessary, Probation. Our Street Outreach team also offers assistance with food, access to clothing, employment opportunities and removing barriers that prevent people from moving forward such as helping people replace their missing documents so employment becomes an option again.

Phoenix Rescue Mission Services

Through PRM’s Food Bank, Hope for Hunger, we are serving the needs of up to 125 families a day. These families seeking food boxes are offered Case Management assistance to help address any other life needs they may be facing, such as referrals for utility and rent assistance, referrals to programs for back-to-school support for their children and other special events, assistance with applying for their SNAP, AHCCCS and WIC benefits, and healthcare education through partnerships with local universities.

Food bank for the homeless, Phoenix Narrative, homelessness
There are also great volunteer opportunities to serve at the food bank to give back to others in need.

Through our residential facilities, we are currently providing life-transforming recovery services to 250 plus clients daily. With the increased need in our community, Phoenix Rescue Mission has been working over the past couple of years on an expansion project that will provide services for double our current population, beginning on our men’s campus.

Phoenix Rescue Mission Facilities

The Phoenix Rescue Mission will expand facilities where we will serve the needs of up to 360 men with Christ-centered recovery services.  Our Christ-centered services are provided for program participants, which includes the following: substance abuse education, parenting education, anger management, and domestic violence education, one-on-one counseling, vocational development with assistance to work toward real employment opportunities.

Participants are also given the opportunity to work on receiving their High School Diploma or GED. Through our residential program, participants are provided an opportunity to fully engage in DCS-related cases, resolve some of their legal concerns, and fully comply with any probation or court-ordered mandates by participating in our all-inclusive program.

What’s the most common reason for being homeless?

Homeless near canal in Phoenix Arizona, homelessness

Homelessness may be the result of one or more of the following issues that many people are experiencing, including a high percentage of them experiencing addiction.

  • Addiction
  • Job Loss
  • Domestic Violence
  • Health Issues
  • Mental Health Issues
  • Loss of Relationships/Stability
  • Poor Life Choices
  • Loss of Home, including eviction
  • Grief/Despair

Why the recent increase in Homelessness?

Homelessness and drug addiction is at an epidemic high in our nation, with more than one million people experiencing homelessness, with approximately 30 percent of them suffering from mental illness and 50 percent chronically addicted to drugs, alcohol or both.

Approximately 70 percent of homeless veterans are estimated to be substance abusers.

Pamela Morrison, PRM

Thinking about these percentages in Phoenix is just as staggering—people are struggling with addiction. Phoenix Rescue Mission works with community partners to be a resource for those motivated for change when they are ready to enter our facility for a new beginning.

Elderly poor homeless, Phoenix Narrative, homelessness

Lack of affordable housing has forced many to the streets. As rents rise, incomes have remained the same, so those who are living on the edge are the first affected. You see more and more elderly who can no longer maintain housing due to the increased rents. Addiction and mental health concerns are also a major factor in the number of people on the street.

To seek help, most people need to have medical insurance, and if they are on the street, many times they have lost the necessary documents to maintain those benefits.

How should Phoenix residents respond to panhandlers?

There is no general response to this question. The brief encounter people have when they engage someone panhandling will seldom change the person’s situation.  Handing someone cash may simply be supporting an addiction. By not giving cash, you have not supported their poor choices.

What you can do, especially now in this heat, is to hand them water and information on where to seek help.  The Phoenix Rescue Mission offers referral cards with intake information for our facilities and information about our RAP program that can offer additional resources. You can find those on our website www.phoenixrescuemission.org and print them at home or your office.

panhandlers, Phoenix Narrative, homelessness

What can local government do to help improve your ability to provide better services?

The issue of homelessness will only be resolved through the collaboration of social impact partners. We need increased access to mental health services and affordable housing. Regulations and bureaucracy must be reduced and giving to local charities should be encouraged, especially those working to be a solution to homelessness in our community.

Faith-based providers need to be empowered. They to be at the table as a part of the planning and implementation of services.  Churches are still the center of many communities where people seek help first, so they must be included as a part of the solution.

What do residents of Phoenix not know about Phoenix Rescue Mission?

Many people think we are simply an emergency shelter.

Pamela Morrison, PRM

However, what we offer people who are motivated is a full continuum of both residential and nonresidential programs designed to engage those in need. We provide immediate crisis assistance and create solutions to end life-controlling problems working to guide people to recovery.  

We offer residential programs in therapeutic communities. We offer a unique blend of Christian discipleship, recovery from addiction and other life-controlling issues along with vocational development. PRM’s vision is to be a role model as a Christ-centered rescue, recovery, and training center for the Christian community.

Homeless Veterans Army, Phoenix Narrative,

We also want the community to know that the Phoenix Rescue Mission offers a variety of ways for people and groups to get involved.  

Church communities, individuals and businesses looking for ways to make a difference can go to our volunteer website.

The only solution to the issue of homelessness is working together. People can come and learn best practices in mentoring a man or women in their Christian recovery.

Come, walk alongside a mother learning to parent again, or teach a bible study or share a testimony in one of our Chapel services.

Are there other homeless shelters or organizations that you collaborate with?

Absolutely, yes! None of us can do this work alone. We partner with other non-profit agencies, government agencies, universities, and local businesses to serve the needs of our community.

If you are looking for a way to get involved Phoenix Rescue Mission offers a multitude of ways for you to make a difference!

Thanks to Pamela Morrison and the Phoenix Rescue Mission for their insights into this important issue. To learn more about the services the Phoenix Rescue Mission provides visit www.phoenixrescuemission.org or contact Pamela Morrison for more information.

Here’s what’s on my mind:

Prior to running for Mayor, I did what most in our community do when you see a homeless person. I gave a few dollars or created care packages with my kids and passed them to those who begged on the corners.

Once I realized the magnitude of the office I was seeking, I felt a greater calling in helping those who need help the most, the poor and indigent. Every time I saw a homeless person on the street, my gut was on fire. We are such a wealthy nation that the garages we park our cars in are better living conditions than many homes around the world. The least we can do is help the poor in our community.

I talked about this issue nonstop during the 2018 election cycle. The responses I got were either: 1) it’s Phoenix not LA so stop talking about it incessantly or 2) the City of Phoenix will add it to the budget and provide services to fix this problem.

I was disheartened.


At any given time, a poor choice made by my parents and they could’ve been homeless. When I see an elderly homeless person, I think that could’ve been my grandmother, my grandfather, my father or mother.

When I was elected to the Tempe Union High School District Governing Board, I learned we had homeless children in our school district. Not just our local school district but school districts throughout our State. What poor life choices did those children make?

There is no silver bullet solution to this crisis.

Every expert in the trenches dealing with this crisis has had a similar message to addressing this: Social impact partnerships with a holistic approach.

Government alone cannot solve this problem.

Government can actually make the problem worse by providing conditions that handcuff and shackle community-based organizations.

This is such an important topic that we will follow up with more interviews in the future.

‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25: 35-40

Do you know anyone that’s been homeless? Did they fall back into the cycle or did they break out?

1 thought on “Homelessness Epidemic in Phoenix

  1. My name is Thad Scropos: I have an acre and 1/4 in Black Canyon City AZ. It has solar and a well and me. I want to grow food here. I know that people know how to grow food and if they don’t we can learn together. This land in a natural oasis needs to be producing food. I need someone to work with me to turn this property into a food production facility. I have resources. I need a confederate.

Comments are closed.