Mesa volunteers work to help the homeless

Every year, cities across the country participate in what's called a point-in-time homeless count. It's a one-day effort with the greater goal of helping those who live on the streets.

Before the sun rose early Tuesday morning, 61 volunteers were covering every inch of Mesa.

They're spending hours counting the community's homeless with the intention and hope of getting them back on their feet.

"They said that they have access to meals at night and they were aware of St. Vincent de Paul where he gets coffee," Anne Marie Johnston said. "He's trying really hard to get a job. He lost his job and that forces him to lose his housing, so they're out here on the streets and he's looking for work."

That's the information that volunteers like Anne Marie write down, as well as other answers to survey questions like whether a person is disabled or a veteran. All of that is sent to Washington, D.C. and handed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.

"We get funding from HUD every year to provide housing and services for people, so part of our application to HUD for funding is to provide the counts we have for an annual basis," said Liz Morales, director of the City of Mesa Housing and Community Development.

Morales says last year's count was 95 and in Maricopa County, over 1,600. Although in reality the numbers are much higher, Liz says their count gives HUD a snapshot and so far, she says, this method, fueled by volunteers, has worked.

"In the additional funding we've received on veterans, we've seen an over 60 percent decrease over the last three years, so there's a lot of efforts going on and these funds are critical to addressing homelessness," she said.