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DIGGING DEEPER: COVID-19 pandemic contributes to homeless hike

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TUCSON (KVOA) - At last count, there were approximately 361 homeless individuals sleeping on Tucson streets. That is more than double that number sleeping in shelters.

Residents may have noticed there are more homeless around town than ever before.

"There were beds, for sure because I had a friend who went in and came back out while he was in there," Dominic Buzzelli said. "He said a whole half of the shelter was open."

But, when he tried to get into a shelter? He said "they weren't taking nobody."

So, Buzzelli stays with a friend at night, and spends his days at Santa Rita Park at 22nd and Fourth Avenue.

He's not alone.

Tina said she was evicted from her home because she could not afford to pay her rent. She also said her health has also presented issues recently.

"I've been in the hospital twice this month," she said.

The Primavera Foundation provides various services for the homeless in Southern Aizona, from giving them a place to live to helping them find jobs.

However, due to the pandemic and the economic toll it has taken, more people like Dominic and Tina are finding themselves without a place to call home.

"We have many more, and we expect to have many more people that just don't have a safe place to call home," Peggy Hutchison, who heads Primavera Foundation said. "It's tragic."

She added these are these are challenging times.

Some people are turned away because many shelters do not accept animals.

Another reason shelters may look empty is that they have to abide by the CDC guidelines so they cannot house as many people as they used to.

"We need to follow all the health precautions, of social distancing, physical distancing," Hutchison said.

The city and the county are also helping out by renting hotel rooms to help the at-risk homeless population.

"We have a little over 300 rooms for this project. They are pretty much at capacity," said Liz Morales, the City of Tucson's housing and community development director. "It's not just the hotel rooms, we are providing meals. We are providing case management. We're providing health services. We're providing transportation once we identify them to take them to the hotels."

The project started in April and costs about $1.4 million a month. It is being paid for by the CARES act and coronavirus relief funds.

"This was the best way to go to minimize the spread and protect our most vulnerable population," she said.

Morales said it also keeps the spread of the coronavirus down and protects the community.

In the meantime, Angelica Boone and Marcos Puente struggle each day without having a roof over their head. They said they worry about the pandemic.

"Yes, it does, because any little cough, people are very alarmed," Boone said.

Also alarming, Hutchison said, the situation is going to get worse before it gets better because Arizona's COVID-19 numbers continue rise.

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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