PHOENIX — In 2015, Maricopa County leaders pledged to end homelessness. Four years later and in the middle of a booming Arizona economy, advocates working with the homeless say the situation is worse now than it's ever been.
Lisa Glow, the CEO of Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS), says Arizona is facing the worst affordable housing crisis of our time. For every 100 low-income renters in need, Glow said the Phoenix metropolitan area has only 20 affordable and available rental units, which ranks near the bottom nationally.
Glow said as the crisis worsened, more and more people faced eviction from their homes. As a result, she says Arizona has the second-highest eviction rate in the country with more than 25,000 eviction orders processed by Phoenix justice courts last year.
All of those factors have contributed to the Valley's homelessness problem.
Glow said since 2015 there had been a 149% increase in the number of unsheltered homeless individuals living on the streets of Maricopa County. At the same time, the state had lost shelter beds. Every day people are turned away from homeless shelters in the Valley.
At CASS alone, Glow said staff says "we have no room" to hundreds of people every month. The emergency shelter focused on families has a waiting list of more than 100 families on it.
Elias and Geneva Sanchez were among those who waited for more than a month and a half to get a place to sleep at the shelter. With four children in tow and no jobs, the Sanchez family said they never thought they'd have to find themselves in this predicament.
The family moved to Phoenix from New Mexico for a fresh start. Elias Sanchez hoped to finish school and work a part-time job, but the jobs did not pan out and the family was unable to find a home they could afford.
"It was really hard, but we got through it," said Geneva Sanchez.
While at CASS, the Sanchez family shared a small apartment with another family. The couple had to go through many classes and show that they were trying to find jobs and improve their situation before CASS would take them.
With help from CASS, the family is now living in a two-bedroom apartment. Even though their bed is in the kitchen, Geneva Sanchez said they were extremely grateful for a place to call their own.
Glow said the Sanchez's were just one of many families the organization was helping.
"We are doing two things at CASS. First, we are advocating for more emergency shelter beds throughout the Maricopa County region. Second, we are providing our voices and our leadership to demand that our political officials support more affordable housing for Arizonans," said Glow.
To find out more about CASS and to help in their mission go here.