More than a dozen people who live and work near the largest homeless camp in Arizona are suing the city of Phoenix for failing to address and for worsening the growing homelessness crisis.
The lawsuit claims the city does not offer shelter or resources to the homeless and does not enforce quality of life ordinances that forbid activities like loitering, intoxicated behavior, and drug use.
The Human Services Campus in Phoenix holds the largest homeless shelter in the state, surrounded by a sizable homeless encampment known as “the Zone,” located just west of downtown. About 500 individuals were residing in tents in the Zone prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The campus reported that there were currently close to 900 residents, though this number varies and has occasionally reached 1,000. Tensions between the community, the city, and the shelter had existed for a while, but they reached a breaking point in 2018 when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated legislation in Boise, Idaho, that outlawed “urban camping.”
After the ruling, Phoenix reportedly reduced the enforcement of its own urban camping restrictions, which is when the Zone allegedly started to expand out of control, according to the lawsuit.
The city would be required to address the Zone, either by moving it to a different location, setting up a planned camping place where cleanliness is maintained, or offering indoor shelter to people living on the streets. The residents sought the court’s permission to declare the Zone a public nuisance.
On May 9th, a judge ruled in favor of the neighbors who sued the city, and Phoenix now must permanently clear the Zone. The plaintiffs’ attorneys believe their case could serve as a template for individuals seeking to compel other U.S. communities to remove such settlements.
— One America News (@OANN) May 9, 2023
The city’s Office of Homeless Solutions told the press that as Phoenix officials get ready to start removing tents from the Zone this week, they are also rushing to build safe options for displaced vagrants.
They are using state money to rent hotel rooms and vacant buildings to turn into shelters, and they are also creating an outdoor campground with security, restrooms, and hand-washing stations.
According to annual counts managed by the Maricopa Association of Governments, the Phoenix area has about half as many shelter beds as people who are experiencing homelessness, a population that has increased 46% since 2019 amid the housing crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many people who live in the Zone claim that they can’t afford rent, despite having jobs or receiving government aid. According to county officials who spoke to the press, more than 700 homeless people died in Maricopa County in Phoenix last year, a 23% increase from 2020.