Phoenix officials begin clearing city's largest homeless encampment

Phoenix officials begin clearing city's largest homeless encampment

Democrat-led Phoenix finally vows to clear giant encampment of up to 2,000 homeless people after neighbors won court case – but inhabitants will be moved into HOTELS

  • Officials in Phoenix will begin demolishing the city’s largest homeless encampment this week 
  • The move comes after local business owners sued the city over the camp, arguing that local government was contributing to a ‘public nuisance’
  • Activists are now scrambling with what to do with the residents of the encampment, with some about to be rehoused in hotels  

The city of Phoenix will begin clearing the city’s largest homeless encampment in the wake of a court ruling after neighbors brought a lawsuit against the local government. 

The homeless camp, known as The Zone, is located steps from the state Capitol building and the Arizona Diamondbacks’ stadium. The city’s Democratic Mayor Kate Gallego said in April that she agreed with the demolition of the camp ‘in spirit.’ 

While in March, Arizona’s liberal Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed a bill that would ban people setting up tents in public spaces. 

The lawsuit could be used to help other city’s attempts to remove homeless camps, reports CNN. While advocates for the homeless told the network that the lawsuit merely moves the problem rather then solving anything. 

Office of Homeless Solutions director Nette Reed told CNN that officials will have to ‘move fast’ in order to find housing for those being displaced, including booking hotel rooms and using vacant buildings as shelters. 

This week, officials in Phoenix will begin clearing the city’s largest homeless encampment known as The Zone

In March, local business owners sued  the city saying that they were contributing to a ‘public nuisance’ in allowing the camp to operate

One woman interviewed by CNN said that she would not be moving to a city-run facility because of her drug use

Last month, the city’s Democratic Mayor Kate Gallego said that she agreed ‘in spirit’ that the camp should be moved 

As many as 2,000 people call The Zone home, the number of homeless in Phoenix has risen from 700 to over 3,000 in less than ten years

Phoenix’s Democratic Mayor Kate Gallego has been in office since 2019, during which time the city’s homeless population has exploded 

It’s estimated that around 2,000 people call The Zone home. AZ Central reports that many who live there are drug users and/or battling serious mental illness.

One resident of The Zone, Shina Sepulveda, told the New York Times that living in the area is not ‘a life. It’s an existence.’ 

The CEO of homeless charity Community Bridges said that their organization will be providing shelter space and hotel rooms for the displaced.  

The process of removing the encampment will be done block-by-block. When people are removed, they will not be allowed to return or they could face a criminal charge. 

In an April interview with KSAT, Mayor Gallego said that her office was still seeking solutions to the homeless problem. 

‘We’ve been working with my colleagues to bring seven new investments online that will help take people out of the zone and put them into a better housing situation. These include partnerships with nonprofits like the Salvation Army, UMom and CBI that are in every part of Phoenix,’ the mayor said. 

A couple who sued the city, seeking to have the camp moved, Joe and Debbie Faillace, said that the regularly found feces and drug paraphernalia outside of the sandwich shop that they have operated in the area for 30 years. 

‘There’s just a complete lawlessness, and it’s getting worse. We want our neighborhood back. We want to feel safe,’ Debbie told the network. The number of homeless people in Phoenix has risen from 771 in 2014 to 3.096 in 2022. 

An advocate told CNN that she was worried that others could follow the Phoenix lawsuit. 

‘We know that the only way to actually address this issue and homelessness is affordable housing and the services that people want and need in order to get housing,’ National Alliance to End Homelessness CEO Ann Oliva said. 

Another resident, Rayann Denny, told CNN that she would not be moving to city-run shelter because of her drug use.

‘I just try to keep myself high so I don’t have to deal with the pain,’ the 37-year-old said.

Denny said that she became homeless after her husband died and she couldn’t pay the bills. 

The demolishing of the camp will begin on Wednesday and will be done block by block

Those forced to move on will not be permitted to return to the area 

A pedestrian walks by The Zone in June 2021. During the summer months, temperatures regularly soar well past 110 degrees

Nadeen Bender stands outside her tent at a homeless encampment

Austin Davis, Lina Ali and Mackenzie Zollner carry goods for distribution to the homeless in The Zone

According to the lawsuit, the city should have no tents within public property and biohazards that include drugs, trash and human waste should be picked up

While another, Stefanie Powell, said that she doesn’t know where she and her boyfriend will wind up. 

‘I don’t want to wind up having to walk the streets again. It’s hard because nobody wants to see the problem. Nobody wants to acknowledge the problem. They just want it to away,’ Powell told CNN.  

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Scott Blaney ruled in March that Phoenix is maintaining a ‘public nuisance’ and city officials must show evidence at a July 10 hearing that they’re cleaning the area.

The business owners cited an increase in crime, drug usage in public, biohazards and break-ins.

According to the lawsuit, the city should have no tents within public property and biohazards that include drugs, trash and human waste should be picked up.

Attorneys for the business owners said Phoenix has allowed homeless people to set up permanent tent encampments on public sidewalks and decreased enforcement of loitering, drunken and disorderly conduct and drug use among other things.

Kristin Couturier, a city spokesperson, said officials were reviewing the court ruling.

‘We remain committed to address the needs of all residents and property owners,’ Couturier said in a statement Monday. 

‘We continue to work with local and regional partners to address the complex issues surrounding those experiencing homelessness and to connect people in need with safe, indoor spaces and resources to help end their homelessness.’

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