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PHOENIX -- Hundreds of volunteers fanned out across the Valley for about three hours Tuesday morning on foot and by car as part of a massive effort to count homeless people sleeping on the streets.

Coordinated by the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), the count utilizes volunteer teams that include city, county and state agencies, faith- and community-based organizations, businesses and private residents. The volunteers canvassed all areas to likely have homeless individuals who are living unsheltered on the streets. This included alleys and river bottom areas.

MAG said, last year, the street count identified 1,581 homeless men, women and children on the streets. The point-in-time count provides valuable data to help develop strategies to acquire the needed federal funding to end homelessness in the region.

Kenneth Curry, who heads up the homeless outreach team for Southwest Behavioral Health, said last year's count is a fraction of the real numbers of people living on the streets.

"The volunteers will be trying to connect or reconnect the individuals with the services that they need. The main purpose is to get a direct count of people in need. The problem has gotten better but it is still a big challenge. The recession and economic downfall is still very much present."

The street count is critical to securing millions of dollars in Continuum of Care Program homeless assistance funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) each year. The results are used in the Maricopa Association of Governments' consolidated application to HUD to support homeless assistance programs.

HUD has provided more than $269 million in homeless assistance funding to the region since 1999.

Jim Cross, Reporter

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