PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5)-- Rising rent across the Phoenix area is pushing low wage workers into homelessness. That is according to advocates for the poor and others who work with the homeless community in Maricopa County.
"People making minimum wage cannot afford to pay the rent. And a lot of people who are working are becoming homeless because they can't afford a place to live," said Lisa Glow, the CEO of Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS). She says that about 25 percent of the people who stay in CASS shelters each night are employed. "Just because the economy is great doesn't mean that less people are homeless. In fact, what we are seeing is more people are becoming homeless because there's less affordable housing, and rents are dramatically on the rise."
According to Rentjungle.com, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Phoenix rose from $618 in January 2011 to $1,028 in January 2020. In the meantime, the overall cost-of-living is higher in Phoenix than the national average, while wages are below the national average.
"A livable wage is now almost $18 per hour," said Brent Downs, who is the executive director of St. Joseph the Worker -- an organization that helps people become self-sufficient. "I get calls at least once a week from clients who are sleeping on the light rail… they're working the shifts at the job and sleeping on the light rail during the day because they have nowhere else to sleep.”
Downs says it is nearly impossible for someone to maintain employment once they become homeless.
"When I was working two jobs, it still wasn't enough just to get a basic apartment-- much less an apartment for me and my son," said Rebecca Young, who spent about half of last year sleeping in her truck. She says that just finding a safe place to park and sleep was a challenge. She calls herself “lucky” because she had worked for Circle K for years, so employees would often let her sleep in the parking lot behind one of the convenience store locations in Peoria. She would heat up her food in the store's microwave and use a shower at a nearby gym.
"When you look like you're homeless, people don't talk to you," said Young. She was finally able to save up enough money to pay for an apartment, but she says she's still afraid she'll end up on the street again. "In reality, any one of us is just a few steps away from it."