Surges in Unemployment Could Result in Increases in Homelessness

Jim SharpeAugust 27, 2020
Share This

University of Arizona researchers are warning of a potential wide-spread epidemic in our state caused by the coronavirus. But this time, a face mask won’t impede it.

Instead, they’re predicting an epidemic of homelessness. Keith Bentele of University of Arizona’s Southwest Institute for Research on Women recently told ABC15 that a surge in unemployment could result in a big surge in unsheltered homeless. And he’s worried “the scope of the problem is not being appreciated by our responses.”

One need not be a professor or an economist to be worried, though. Using simple math (all I’m really capable of), I’ve arrived at the same frightening picture.

First, the big picture: Over the last few years, the U.S. has seen close to 2.5 million evictions of renters annually. How does
2.5 million per month sound? Some not-so-outlandish estimates say that could be our future this fall. Government money and eviction moratoriums have been a dam holding back a flood of inevitable evictions – but when they end, we could face 11 million evictions by the end of the year.

With many of these households containing multiple tenants, the Urban Institute estimates that 43 million people in the U.S. are at risk of being evicted. And because more than 25 percent of small businesses are expected to disappear before the coronavirus pandemic does, many people aren’t going to have the money to get caught up anytime soon.

Global advisory firm Stout says
39 percent of Arizona renters are at risk for eviction (which amounts to a statewide estimated shortfall of $400 million). According to the Census Bureau, more than 2.75 people, on average, live in each Maricopa County household, and about 600,000 of those households rent.

Do the math, and more than a half million people in the Valley are in danger of not knowing where they will rest their heads by the end of 2020.

Not all of those in danger of eviction will actually end up being evicted. And a large percentage of the evicted won’t end up homeless. But if only 5 percent do, between 30,000 and 40,000 people in Maricopa County may no longer have an abode. That would be a 500 percent increase in our homeless population – and could make the Valley of the Sun seem more like the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

I hate to keep piling on, but my above calculations are only based on rental numbers. I didn’t factor in homeowners struggling to make mortgage payments. Many mortgage bankers are launching programs to help people stay in their homes. I’m grateful they’re making the effort but, selfishly, I’m most grateful that I don’t need that help.

Speaking of selfish, if even a fraction of this comes true, helping the homeless will no longer be a solely selfless act driven by moral and humanitarian reasons. Considering the potential economic damage, we may all need to selfishly care about it.

Jim Sharpe is the host of Arizona’s Morning News on KTAR-FM 92.3 (weekdays 5-9 a.m.). Visit ktar.com to find more information about his on-air work.

For more than 50 years, PHOENIX magazine's experienced writers, editors, and designers have captured all sides of the Valley with award-winning and insightful writing, and groundbreaking report and design. Our expository features, narratives, profiles, and investigative features keep our 385,000 readers in touch with the Valley's latest trends, events, personalities and places.