Aug 12, 2022 - News

Neighbors sue Phoenix over handling of homeless encampment

Makeshift tents on a desert street.

A portion of "the Zone" near downtown Phoenix. Photo: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

More than a dozen people who live and work near the state's largest homeless encampment are suing Phoenix over its "failure to address — and its exacerbation of — the growing homelessness crisis within the city."

  • The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Maricopa County Superior Court.

State of play: The lawsuit challenges the legality and constitutionality of Phoenix's homelessness policies, which the plaintiffs claim have concentrated homelessness in their neighborhood.

  • They claim the city is not providing people experiencing homelessness with housing or services and is not enforcing "quality of life ordinances" that prohibits things like loitering, drunken conduct and drug use.

Catch up quick: The large homeless encampment just west of downtown, often referred to as "the Zone," surrounds the Human Services Campus, home to the state's largest homeless shelter.

  • Before the pandemic, there were about 500 people living in tents in the Zone. According to the campus, there are nearly 800 people currently in the area, though the number fluctuates and has been as high as 1,000.
  • The neighborhood, the city and the shelter have been at odds for decades, but tensions came to a head in 2018, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a Boise, Idaho, law that outlawed "urban camping."
  • Phoenix scaled back enforcement of its own urban camping laws after the decision, which is when the Zone began to grow substantially, the lawsuit claims.

What they're saying: "The city’s policies are not rationally designed to address any of the social ills facing the residents of the Zone and are exacerbating rather than alleviating their problems," residents claim in the lawsuit.

  • The neighbors claim the city's lack of enforcement has led to an increase in violent and property crimes, drug use, litter and public defecation.

What they want: The residents are asking the court to declare the Zone a public nuisance, which would require the city to address it, either by moving it somewhere else, creating a structured camping area where cleanliness is maintained or providing indoor shelter for people on the streets.

  • They're also asking the court to declare the city's involvement in "creating, expanding, operating and/or maintaining the Zone" unconstitutional.

The other side: Phoenix spokesperson Dan Wilson tells Axios Phoenix that copies of the lawsuit were made public before the city had a chance to review the claims.

  • He says the city "is committed to addressing the needs of all residents and property owners as we work with local and regional partners to address the complex issues surrounding those experiencing homelessness."

Councilmember Yassamin Ansari, who represents the area, said in a statement that "no neighborhood should face the brunt of Maricopa County’s homelessness crisis" and said she worked to bring shelter to other parts of the city during his first year in office.

  • She asked for more state and regional support to speed up additional shelter options that would take pressure off of the area surrounding the Human Services Campus.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the latest count of people living in the homeless encampment.


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