May 10, 2023 - News

Phoenix begins clearing "The Zone" homeless encampment

Items left behind on the first block of "The Zone" to be cleared. Photo: Jessica Boehm/Axios

The city of Phoenix yesterday began a court-ordered cleanup of "The Zone" — the city's largest homeless encampment.

What's happening: The city forced about 35 people out of the area between Washington and Jefferson streets on Ninth Avenue. If they didn't move, they could have been arrested or cited.

  • The city is clearing one block at a time from now until July 10, the deadline a superior court judge set to remove the 750-person encampment that spans from Seventh to 15th avenues and Van Buren to Grant streets.

Why it matters: The Zone has devolved into a state of "lawlessness and chaos" and poses significant health and safety risks to the unhoused people living there and the surrounding businesses and neighborhoods, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Scott Blaney said in March.

State of play: Phoenix Homeless Solutions deputy director Scott Hall said each of the people living on the block were offered a shelter bed, hotel room or help reuniting with family.

  • As of Wednesday morning, 25 people had moved into one of the city's indoor options.

Yes, but: Not everyone who left the block went inside. Antoin Jackson moved his tent, shopping cart of supplies and his dog, Ruckus, to the corner of Jefferson Street and 11th Avenue.

  • He told Axios Phoenix he would've taken one of the city's hotel rooms, but service providers offered to take him only to a shelter. He said he'd tried that in the past and had no interest in going back.
  • Jackson's new camping spot is still in the Zone, and in the coming weeks, the city will force him to move from there, too. He told us he didn't know where he'd go next.
  • "I think I'm going to take my dog and disappear," he said.
Tarpes and a grocery cart on the side of the road.
Antoin Jackson moved to this spot at Jefferson Street and 11th Avenue after her was forced to move from Ninth Avenue. Photo: Jessica Boehm/Axios

Flashback: A group of nearby residents and business owners sued the city of Phoenix last August for its "failure to address — and its exacerbation of — the growing homelessness crisis within the city."

  • In March, Blaney agreed the area had become a "public nuisance" and ordered the city to remove all tents and other makeshift structures from the public right-of-way.

Reality check: The city does not have enough shelter for everyone living in the Zone — and Phoenix officials do not yet know where they will relocate the remaining people.

  • Hall said the city is clearing the encampment block-by-block to buy time to find more indoor options.
  • He said at any given time there are "maybe five" open beds in Phoenix. The city worked with partners to find enough beds for the people cleared out yesterday, and said the plan is to do the same with each remaining area.

Parting shot: When asked whether the city would have another 30 beds available in two weeks when workers sweep the next block, Hall said, "I hope so."


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