A Phoenix homeless encampment, known as “the Zone,” is being dismantled after more than a dozen residents sued the city. The encampment, which housed nearly 900 residents at times, was located near the state’s largest homeless shelter, the Human Services Campus. The lawsuit alleged that the city’s policies exacerbated the homelessness crisis and failed to enforce quality-of-life ordinances.
Tensions between the community, the city, and the shelter had been growing for years but reached a breaking point in 2018 when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated a Boise, Idaho, law that outlawed urban camping. The Zone then began to expand significantly, according to the lawsuit.
Phoenix Residents sue the City because of this large homeless camp housing hundreds of people – claiming it's a nuisance. https://t.co/kqMFRzksMU
— Anthony Hughes OAN (@CallMeAntwan) May 9, 2023
The court ruling requires Phoenix to address the encampment, whether by moving it, setting up a planned camping area with cleanliness standards, or offering indoor shelter for those living on the streets. In addition, the plaintiffs sought the court’s permission to declare the Zone a public nuisance and the city’s involvement in its creation and maintenance unconstitutional.
In response to the court’s decision, city officials are scrambling to create safe options for the displaced. They are using state funds to rent hotel rooms and vacant buildings for conversion into shelters and to create an outdoor campground with security, restrooms, and hand-washing stations.
Debbie and Joe Faillace, who have owned Old Station Sub Shop near the encampment for over 30 years, expressed their concerns about the deteriorating conditions in their neighborhood. “There’s just a complete lawlessness, and it’s getting worse,” said Debbie Faillace. “We want our neighborhood back. We want to feel safe.”
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Ilan Wurman, suggested that the lawsuit could serve as a template for individuals looking to compel other U.S. communities to remove similar encampments. However, this prospect concerns activists for the homeless, who argue that it only pushes the issue out of public view at a time when skyrocketing home prices and an inflated economy have put many households at risk.
The Phoenix area has about half as many shelter beds as people experiencing homelessness. This population has increased by 46% since 2019 amid the housing crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite having jobs or receiving government aid, many Zone residents claim they need help to afford rent and rely on the nearby Human Services Campus for shelter, food, water, and medical care.
Rachel Milne, director of Phoenix’s Office of Homeless Solutions, stated that the Zone clearing, scheduled for Wednesday, will be gradual and in line with local efforts to find alternatives for the homeless community. “The city’s approach will be to take it one step at a time, one block at a time, one group of people at a time, making sure that we are able to offer those 50 or so people in that block a variety of different solutions,” Milne said.