Phoenix in Crisis – Substance Abuse and Homelessness on The Rise

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

Table of Contents

The United States is grappling with a serious issue of homelessness, with Phoenix, Arizona, one of the cities most affected.

The rise in Phoenix homelessness and substance abuse is easily noticed by even just a short 5 minute drive, pretty much in any area of the city.

This city’s homeless population has risen significantly in the past few years.

Let’s explore the crucial link between substance abuse and homelessness in Phoenix.

It highlights how addiction exacerbates the already challenging situation for those lacking a stable residence.

By comprehending the complex relationship between these two issues, we can develop effective solutions and extend compassionate support to assist those in need in their journey toward recovery and attaining permanent housing.


The Rise of Homelessness in Phoenix, Arizona

Year Estimated Phoenix Homeless Population Percentage Increase YOY
2015 3,500 N/A
2016 4,200 20%
2017 4,800 14.29%
2018 5,500 14.58%
2019 6,200 12.73%
2020 7,000 12.90%


In recent years, the issue of homelessness in Phoenix, Arizona, has become more pressing.

According to the annual point-in-time count conducted on January 23, there were 9,642 individuals experiencing homelessness in the county, indicating a concerning increase over the past year.

The Phoenix Rescue Mission reports that more than 9,000 individuals, including men, women, and children, struggle with homelessness on any given day in the Valley.1

Data compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows that the homeless population in the Phoenix metro area has grown by 21% since 2020, highlighting the severity of the issue.

The Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office also reported a troubling trend: homeless deaths doubled between 2019 and 2020, reaching nearly 600 fatalities.

These statistics paint a bleak picture of the rising homelessness crisis in Phoenix, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive solutions and support for those affected.


Factors Contributing to the Increase of Homelessness in Phoenix


Many factors contribute to homelessness, but economic circumstances are a significant driving force.

Job loss and unemployment rates considerably impact individuals and families ending up on the streets.2

When the economy is down, and jobs are scarce, people struggle to find stable employment and meet their basic needs.

High unemployment rates make it difficult for people to afford housing and maintain their living arrangements, leading to financial instability.

When people lose their jobs and have no safety net, they are at a higher risk of becoming homeless.

To combat homelessness, it’s essential to address the economic root causes and create effective policies and support systems to help vulnerable populations regain their footing and break free from the cycle of homelessness.



Homelessness is a complex issue that mental health challenges and substance abuse can influence.

People who are struggling with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia often face difficulty maintaining stable housing and support systems.

This can be compounded by limited access to mental health resources, leading to homelessness.

Addiction is also a major contributing factor to homelessness, as it can cause individuals to lose their jobs, damage relationships, and become disconnected from support networks.3

Substance abuse can become a cycle that further isolates people, making it hard to seek help or access resources.

To combat homelessness, it is important to address mental health challenges and provide comprehensive addiction treatment services, which can help people achieve stability and recovery.



Access to social services is crucial for vulnerable individuals needing support to avoid or overcome homelessness.

Homeless people face difficulties accessing essential healthcare, mental health counseling, and other necessary services.

Without adequate medical care and assistance, they may experience worsening health issues, leading to further instability and challenges.

Moreover, insufficient outreach programs aimed at helping the homeless can make it difficult to identify and provide them with the necessary resources.

Without access to these programs, they remain disconnected from available services, making it harder for them to transition out of homelessness.

A comprehensive approach is necessary to enhance access to social services and strengthen outreach programs.

This will go a long way in breaking the cycle of homelessness and creating a more supportive environment for those in need.


Substance Abuse and the Homeless Experience in Phoenix

Homeless individuals in Phoenix face significant challenges due to substance abuse, which worsens their already difficult circumstances.

Those struggling with addiction and homelessness encounter many obstacles that hinder their efforts to achieve stability.

Addiction’s impact on physical and mental health is especially severe for those living on the streets, as they lack proper access to nutrition, healthcare, and sanitation facilities, leading to a decline in their well-being.

Mental health issues and substance abuse further complicate matters, making individuals feel isolated and hopeless.

Additionally, substance abuse often prevents individuals from accessing support services and resources.

The need to prioritize immediate survival and address addiction-related needs leaves little room for addressing the underlying issues of homelessness.

Overcoming addiction becomes a daunting challenge without adequate support, further trapping individuals in the cycle of homelessness.

To effectively address homelessness among substance-abusing individuals, comprehensive and targeted interventions are necessary to address their addiction and housing needs.


Demographics and Trends

To effectively address the issue of substance abuse and homelessness in Phoenix, it is important to understand the demographics and associated trends clearly.

Studies reveal that the homeless population in Phoenix is highly affected by substance abuse, with drugs like methamphetamine, opioids, and alcohol being the most commonly abused.4

Unfortunately, these individuals often face challenges in accessing healthcare and treatment services due to limited access to rehabilitation programs, mental health support, and affordable housing options.

The demographics of those affected vary, but veterans, individuals with mental health disorders, and LGBTQ+ individuals are disproportionately represented.

By identifying these trends, policymakers and organizations can develop targeted interventions and support systems to address substance abuse and homelessness holistically and inclusively.


Challenges in Breaking Free from the Cycle of Addiction and Homelessness

Breaking free from the cycle of addiction and homelessness is a difficult challenge.

Substance abuse and homelessness often work together to create a self-perpetuating cycle that is tough to escape.

Homelessness can worsen addiction, as individuals may use substance abuse to cope with their harsh living conditions.

On the other hand, addiction can make homelessness worse by depleting financial resources, eroding social support, and making it harder to find stable housing.

To break this cycle, a comprehensive approach is needed that simultaneously addresses both the substance abuse and housing needs of individuals.

This means providing access to addiction treatment programs, mental health services, affordable housing options, and employment opportunities.

Recognizing the interconnected nature of addiction and homelessness is vital in developing interventions that empower individuals to rebuild their lives and achieve long-term recovery.

By taking a multidimensional approach, communities can create a supportive, compassionate, and hopeful environment for those working to break free from the cycle of addiction and homelessness.


Recommendations for Reducing Homelessness in Phoenix

To effectively combat homelessness in Phoenix, it is necessary to take a comprehensive approach that tackles both the immediate needs of the homeless community and the root causes that lead to homelessness.

Here are some recommendations that can help combat homelessness in the city:


Increasing Affordable Housing Options

Increasing the availability of affordable housing is a crucial step toward reducing homelessness.

This can be achieved through partnerships with developers to build more low-income housing units, providing rent subsidies for vulnerable populations, and encouraging landlords to participate in affordable housing programs.

Additionally, exploring innovative housing models such as tiny homes and transitional housing can offer temporary solutions for those experiencing homelessness.


Expanding Access to Mental Health and Addiction Services

It is common for homeless individuals to face difficulties with mental health and substance abuse.

These challenges can make it difficult to find stable housing.

To tackle this issue, improving mental health and addiction treatment services is crucial.

This can be done by increasing access to counseling, therapy programs, and specialized outreach teams and ensuring that homeless individuals have access to high-quality healthcare and addiction treatment facilities.


Strengthening Support Systems and Social Services

A strong support system is essential to help homeless individuals reintegrate into society successfully.

Implementing case management programs that provide personalized assistance and guidance can help individuals navigate the complexities of accessing resources.

Additionally, expanding social services like food assistance, hygiene facilities, and access to necessities can address immediate needs and offer a safety net for vulnerable populations.


Enhancing Job Training and Employment Opportunities

Having sustainable employment is essential in breaking the cycle of homelessness.

Investing in job training and employment programs that equip homeless individuals with skills and job readiness increases their chances of obtaining stable employment.

Working with local businesses to create employment opportunities and providing incentives to hire individuals transitioning out of homelessness can also help support their journey toward self-sufficiency.


Acknowledging that solving homelessness necessitates a joint effort among government agencies, non-profit organizations, the private sector, and the community is crucial.

By collaborating and implementing these suggestions, Phoenix can take substantial steps toward decreasing homelessness and aiding vulnerable populations in achieving stability and self-reliance.


Combating Stigma and Misconceptions

It’s important to combat the stigma and misconceptions surrounding substance abuse and homelessness in order to create a more supportive and compassionate community.

Unfortunately, destigmatizing these issues can be challenging since societal attitudes often perpetuate negative stereotypes, which only further marginalize those affected.

The stigma associated with substance abuse and homelessness can discourage individuals from seeking help because they fear being judged and rejected.

This can make it difficult for them to access vital support services and treatment programs, which can perpetuate a cycle of isolation and vulnerability.

To address this, it’s essential to educate the public about the complexities of these issues.

Raising awareness about the root causes of homelessness, the impact of mental health challenges, and the systemic barriers that contribute to substance abuse can help foster empathy and understanding.

By promoting open dialogue and encouraging a non-judgmental approach, we can work together to break down stigma and create an environment where homeless individuals with substance abuse issues feel empowered to seek help and access the resources they need to rebuild their lives.



Hope for a Better Tomorrow

Despite the rising homelessness rate in Phoenix, numerous organizations and community initiatives are dedicated to providing assistance and resources to those in need.

Whether it’s through shelters, outreach programs, job training, addiction treatment centers, or mental health services, a support network is available to help individuals achieve stability.

By working together with empathy and cooperation, we can create a future where everyone has a safe and comfortable home.

If you or someone you love is facing addiction or homelessness, please don’t hesitate to contact Cornerstone Healing Center in Scottsdale, AZ. Our treatment center is backed by evidence-based practices that focus on addressing the root cause of addiction for sustainable, long-term recovery.

Remember that you’re not alone; there’s always a chance for a brighter tomorrow!



[1] Phoenix Rescue Mission

[2] The Far-Reaching Impact of Job Loss and Unemployment

[3] Factors associated with substance use among homeless young adults

[4] Methamphetamine Use and Its Correlates among Individuals with Opioid Use Disorder in a Midwestern U.S. City

Published: 8/8/2023

Contributor: Julie Miller

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Julie Miller

Recovery Writer and Advocate

Julie is a recovery advocate, with over two years sober. She is a recovery speaker who believes people can change for the better. Her mission is to write factual, helpful information about addiction, treatment, and recovery. She believes that no one should be left in the dark about the process at any stage of their recovery.
lionel estrada lisac clinical director

Clinical Reviewer, Clinical Director

Lionel, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) with over 4 years at Cornerstone. Passionate about helping those with addiction, he has trained as an EMDR therapist  adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of addiction, providing an empathetic approach to addiction.

Articles written prior to August 2023 were also clinically reviewed by Karen Williams, LPC 

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