Understanding the Homelessness Crisis

Homelessness is one of Tucson’s most visible challenges. Yet service needs, outcomes, and access to housing resources vary across different populations, calling for unique and targeted approaches.

Rising Homelessness

After recording small decreases in the number of people experiencing homelessness on a given night from 2017 to 2019, data from Point in Time (PIT) Counts demonstrated a sharp increase from 2018 to 2023. Between 2019 and 2020, unsheltered homelessness increased 300%. When considering data reported through the unsheltered and sheltered Point in Time counts, the overall number of people experiencing homelessness on a single given night in Pima County rose by 60%, from 2018 to 2023.

Homelessness Response

The goal of an effective homeless response system is to quickly identify persons experiencing or at risk of homelessness and provide housing and services through which they can achieve housing stability. The Mayor and Tucson City Council have emphasized the need for a Housing First approach as this model is proven to be a best practice in reducing homelessness. However, there is a need for shared definitions, community wide planning, and clear expectations among funding providers with respect to the Housing First model and “low-barrier/low-demand” shelters. Without a clearly articulated definition or consistent expectations, projects operate along a continuum of approaches with limited oversight or monitoring.

Vulnerable Populations

Factors related to one’s age, race, or any number of lived experiences such as behavioral health or domestic violence history put populations at increased risk of experiencing homelessness as well as the most dangerous harms related to homelessness, up to and including death.

History in the Criminal Justice System

Populations with a history of involvement in the criminal justice system and mental illnesses or substance abuse are particularly at-risk to experience homelessness. Between 10% and 25% of people exiting correctional institutions experience homelessness, and many experienced homelessness prior to incarceration. Research shows that formerly-incarcerated individuals reentering the community who suffer from mental health and/or substance abuse disorder face significant barriers in securing stable housing and necessary treatment, resulting in higher rates of recidivism, homelessness, and poor health outcomes. Also, formerly-incarcerated sex-offenders experience several barriers to stable housing.

Individuals with Mental Illness

The rate of unsheltered homelessness among adults with serious mental illness has increased faster than the rate of any other population. The Point in Time count revealed the percentage of adults with serious mental illness experiencing homelessness decreased by 36% between 2022 and 2023.

Domestic Violence Survivors

Survivors of domestic violence and people living with HIV/AIDS experiencing homelessness are significantly more likely to be sheltered than unsheltered. Adult survivors of domestic violence experiencing homelessness are more likely to be sheltered than unsheltered.


Veterans experiencing homelessness comprised 15% of persons residing in emergency shelter beds during the 2023 Point in Time count. About a third (63 individuals) of the homeless veteran population (172 individuals) were reported unsheltered. Moreover, of those veterans experiencing homelessness, 86 individuals were reported to be chronically homeless.

Race and Ethnicity

Black/African American and Native American/American Indian communities are dramatically over-represented in the homeless population relative to their representation in the broader community.


There is a significant shortage of short-term crisis housing designated for unaccompanied youth, presenting obstacles to reducing youth homelessness. Several specific youth populations experiencing homelessness encounter unique challenges, including LGBTQ+, youth of color, unaccompanied minors and youth involved in justice or child welfare, and pregnant and parenting minors.

Evidence demonstrates it is critical to implement intervention as urgently as possible. On average, fifty percent (50%) of chronically homeless adults report being homeless between 18 and 24 years old. Moreover, every additional day of waiting between assessment and housing placement is associated with a 2% increase in a youth’s likelihood of returning to homelessness after entering a housing program.

Chronic Homelessness

The number of people experiencing chronic homelessness has steadily increased since 2017. On the night of the 2023 Point in Time count, a total of 789 persons experiencing chronic homelessness were identified, up from 225 in 2017. People experiencing chronic homelessness are especially vulnerable to death on the streets.

Point in Time count data point to a growing population of unsheltered persons experiencing chronic homelessness and a relatively small proportion of persons experiencing chronic homelessness residing in longer-term supportive housing. This data indicates a critical need to improve the region’s Coordinated Entry system through which persons are prioritized for housing based on vulnerability.

Contact Us

Contact Information

310 N Commerce Park Loop
Tucson, AZ 85745

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 27210
Tucson, AZ 85726-7210
Phone: (520) 791-4171
Fax: (520) 791-5407