Arizona Looks ‘Like a Third World Country’, Despite Homeless Encampment Being Cleared

By: Beth Moreton | Last updated: Jun 17, 2024

Homelessness is rampant across the world. With many people struggling to cope with the rising cost of living, it has left many having to leave their homes and sleep on the streets in tents.

One of the areas where this problem is particularly prevalent is Phoenix, Arizona. The problem has gotten so bad that one of the business owners in the local area has referred to it as looking like a third-world country.

Phoenix Has High Financial Stress

Phoenix is one of the cities in the US that has the highest amount of financial stress among households. A survey found that 67% of its residents are under some sort of financial stress.

A person in a blue hoodie with their head in their hands looking stressed. They are surrounded by cardboard boxes.

Source: Christian Erfurt/Unsplash

This is in comparison to places such as San Francisco, where just 28% of those living there who participated in the survey reported feeling financially stressed in one way or another.


Homelessness Is Increasing Everywhere

As a result of the cost of living and increasing house prices, many are being forced out of their homes and are either having to move to another state or continue living in their state but end up homeless.

Homeless tents out on the street on the pavement.

Source: Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash

These problems seem to be prevalent in the south. Not only is Phoenix dealing with homelessness, but Nashville is also facing a severe rise in the number of people living on the streets due to wealthy Californians buying homes in the area and raising the prices.

Baby Boomers Are More Likely To Be Homeless

Out of all the generations, Baby Boomers are the ones who are most likely to be homeless. This is due to them going through multiple recessions, inflation, a shortage of homes, and high housing costs.

An image of an old homeless man standing against a stone wall.

Mika Ruusunen/Unsplash

Very few people over the age of 60 have been homeless, with the last time being during the Great Depression. Boomers are now the fastest growing homeless generation in decades.

Most People in Arizona Are on Minimum Wage

Even if people in Arizona aren’t homeless, most of them are just one paycheck away from it. This is because many professions are on or only just over minimum wage and are struggling with the rising cost of living.

A dollar note and some coins against a white surface.

Source: Kenny Eliason/Unsplash

This has resulted in many districts in Arizona being low-income areas. But anyone living in downtown areas lives in what locals have described as a third-world country due to its impoverished condition.

Scary Driving Conditions

The roads in Arizona aren’t much better, either. Many people are working long hours on minimum wage, and they are fed up and have said the roads can be unsafe to drive on because they aren’t properly concentrating.

An aerial view of some roads in Phoenix, Arizona. The roads are on top of one another and have cars and trucks on each one.

Source: Jared Murray/Unsplash

This can be for multiple reasons. Some people are simply too tired but have to drive, as it’s their only way of getting to work. Others, however, are drug addicts and cause dangerous road conditions for other drivers.


Homelessness in Arizona Is Increasing

Since 2017, homelessness in Arizona has been on the increase year after year. It is at the point where the state hasn’t seen these levels of homelessness since the Great Recession in 2000.

Homeless tents and rubbish on the side of the street.

Levi Meir Clancy/Unsplash

Between 2020 and 2022, homelessness in the Grand Canyon State has seen a 21% increase in its homeless population.


Arizona’s Homeless Population Increase

Out of all the US states, Arizona has seen one of the largest increases in homelessness. Over the span of three years, it had risen by 23.4%.

A homeless encampment surrounded by buildings.

Randy Laybourne/Unsplash

This is where officials have had to step in and try to help these people get back to a place where they are no longer homeless by using the services that are available to them.


Arizona Spends $1 Billion Annually on Homelessness

As Arizona is experiencing an increasing number of homeless people, the state has been putting $1 billion into addressing the issue. Despite this, the number of homeless people living here is increasing every year.

A homeless tent outside a red brick building.

Naomi August/Unsplash

43% of this money comes from taxpayers, and yet there isn’t much to show for it. This suggests that more underlying issues need to be addressed with this money to at least stop the growth of the homeless population.


Drugs, Theft, and Vandalism Are a Problem

Due to the number of homeless people on the streets, people living in Phoenix have noticed a rise in the amount of drugs, theft, and vandalism that is going on in the city.

Some white powder in the shape of a skull and crossbones. This is next to some money and a credit card.

Source: Colin Davis/Unsplash

There have also been issues such as urinating in public, which is posing issues to the city’s residents and business owners, who are struggling to attract customers in areas where a lot of homeless people are staying.


Phoenix’s Increasing Homelessness Crisis

Phoenix used to have its homelessness problem under control. While it has had a problem for many years, it wasn’t noticed as much by residents, business owners, and tourists.

The Zone in Phoenix, Arizona. There are tends and shopping trollies on the side of the street.

Source: @ShiraTanzer_/X

However, the main issue came when homeless people were allowed to set up encampments in downtown Phoenix, which became known as tent city, due to over 1000 homeless people setting up camp there.


America Seeing Record Numbers of Homelessness

It’s not just Phoenix that is struggling with record numbers of homelessness, as America as a whole is struggling with a rise in the amount of homeless people.

A homeless encampment alongside some railings.

Levi Meir Clancy/Unsplash

There are a number of reasons for this. There has been a 12% increase in homelessness across the US, and 653,000 people were homeless across the US in 2023.


Homeless People Fear Using Services for Help

Trying to access services is something many homeless people struggle with. It gets to the point where some are even turned away from services they should be entitled to, such as healthcare.

Umbrellas and orange bags placed in a shop doorway to protect a homeless person in the night.

Dan Burton/Unsplash

Especially when people have tried to access these services and been turned away, and in some cases threatened with the police being called, it discourages them from trying again.


NAU Department of Health Sciences Is Helping the Homeless

The NAU Department of Health Sciences has been rewarded a $726,306 grant in the hope they will be able to help Arizona’s homeless population.

A homeless tent camped outside some railings.

Levi Meir Clancy/Unsplash

This includes finding statewide encampment resolution strategies, documenting the needs and experiences of people in encampments, and sharing their findings with local nonprofits and governments.


Death in the Streets

Due to the living conditions of those who are living on the streets, it has led to a lot of illnesses and various other issues, which have contributed to a few people being discovered dead in the streets.

The Zone in Phoenix, Arizona. A truck is picking up cardboard boxes and clothes.

Source: @ShiraTanzer_/X

One was of a homeless man. The other was a premature baby that had been born, with the mother feeling unable to ask for help. This appears to be a rampant issue among the homeless community.


Gangs Were Roaming the Area

Another issue that there was here was gangs roaming the area. Due to the homeless community that had gathered here, some gangs were walking up and down and were demanding that people pay them just to pitch up a tent.

A dumpster in the Zone, Phoenix. The dumpster has bags full of rubbish in the dumpster and along the side of it. Some tents are behind it.

Source: @ChampPR/X

They also posed a risk to the general public living in the area. Many were being harassed and assaulted by these gangs, which gave even more reason for people to try and take action to do something about the area.


Phoenix Ordered a Cleanup of ‘The Zone'

Due to the increasing number of complaints from residents and business owners, Phoenix ordered a cleanup of what became known as “the zone,” which is the area where the tents were.

The Zone in Phoenix, Arizona. The Zone has now been cleaned up, and other than some cars, no tents, people, or garbage are on the street.

Source: @MrDBake/X

However, despite this clean-up happening towards the end of 2023, the area still looks in a state. Even though crime rates in that area have dropped, it still reminds everyone of what once was and the problems that still persist in the city.


Cities Are Building Affordable Housing

To try and put a stop to the number of people who are dealing with homelessness, many US cities are starting to build more affordable housing to give people a bit more choice as to where they are going to live.

A group of people protesting. They are holding a sign that says, “Governor Newsom, keep your promise! 1m affordable homes by 2030!”

Source: @EytanWallace/X

This started with California, which has an increasing homeless problem. California began introducing new measures to help those who are homeless, such as affordable healthcare and homeless services. Once other cities heard about this, they decided to follow suit.


Programs That Inform the Government

Various programs have been set up all over Arizona to help inform the government and various governmental departments about the homeless situation on the streets of Arizona and what can be done to help.

A blue camo homeless tent next to some benches.

Gustavo Sánchez/Unsplash

One such program is Arizona State University’s Knowledge Exchange for Resilience (KER) program. The program hopes to provide data analytics and computational modeling to help inform and empower policymakers to do something about the growing situation.


How Sharing Information Helps

One thing that is clear is that sharing information can help the homeless population in some way.

Two people sitting at a desk with laptops. They are looking at some information on a piece of paper.

Scott Graham/Unsplash

It can help enhance care coordination, lower costs, and improve the outcomes of the people the programs and departments are trying to help.


The ALL INside Initiative

In April 2023, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it would give $486 million to 62 communities to help address the homelessness crisis.

A homeless man in a train station holding up a sign that says, "Seeking human kindness."

Matt Collamer/Unsplash

Parts of this grant went to communities selected for the ‘ALL INside’ initiative. Some of this money will be given to the metropolitan area of Phoenix, as well as Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and other California communities.


How ALL INside Will Help Homeless Communities

As part of the initiative, various government departments will be offering aid to homeless communities all over the US in an attempt to help them get back on their feet.

A homeless man sitting on a bench with a suitcase. A sign is on the suitcase that says, "Anything hungry helps."

Steve Knutson/Unsplash

The US Department of Health and Human Services plans to provide technical assistance to homeless communities and point them towards programs such as Medicaid that help cover housing and behavioral healthcare.


Homelessness Is Still an Issue

It’s all well and good for Phoenix to clear the zone, but that doesn’t eradicate the issue of homelessness, which is still rampant in the city.

A homeless person sleeping outside a building on the street.

Source: Jon Tyson/Unsplash

What it has done is force those who were homeless away from the community they had made. While this works well for business owners and residents, who don’t have to deal with as much crime or drug use as before, it still hasn’t done anything to help the homeless community get their lives back on track.


Homeless Services in Arizona

The Arizona Department of Economic Security has outlined various ways the state can help people who are homeless or who are on the brink of homelessness.

A homeless person sleeping on a mattress on the street.

Jon Tyson/Unsplash

This includes providing rapid rehousing, emergency shelter, homeless prevention, and street outreach. They also collaborate with the Continuums of Care (CoC) to ensure that people’s needs are being met. It is recommended that anyone who may require these services call 211 before getting into a dire situation.