Homeless campground: Phoenix studies 4 cities to help the unhoused

The Zone, a homeless encampment in Phoenix that was once known as the largest encampment of its kind in the city, may be clear for now, but the city still has a homeless crisis to address.

The tents that stacked up across what was The Zone have been gone for some time. This came about after a judge ordered the city to clear The Zone’s encampment by November 2023.

Now, officials are studying four cities to help the unhoused.

City officials are studying four cities. Each of the cities have a homelessness crisis, as well as a similar population size to Phoenix. From the research, all the cities, including Phoenix, are using either a structured campground, village or some sort of campus to deal with the problem.

The cities studied include Austin, Texas, Portland, Ore., and San Antonio, Texas.

For Austin, Phoenix city officials looked at their tiny home community for those coming out of chronic homelessness.

"A 51-acre tiny home master plan, community first village," said Rachel Milne, Director of the City of Phoenix's Office of Homeless Solutions.

For San Antonio, their "Haven of Hope" transformational campus was studied. The program placed nearly a thousand clients in permanent housing in 2023. Meanwhile, Portland's plan to run six shelters or villages were also looked at.

What is Phoenix's plan for the homeless (so far)?

For its part, Phoenix has opened a "safe outdoor space" in the area of 15th Avenue and Jackson.

As of Jan. 4, there are 43 people who are staying at the space, and a majority of them are using the designated camping sites, where tents can be seen.

There are also two structures, called X-Wings, for those who are extremely vulnerable or working.

"We've already moved 30 of the individuals who have stayed there onto an indoor location," said Milne.

Milne said when fully operation, the "safe outdoor space" will have a capacity of 300, and camping will move under a large canopy.

"There is an immense amount of shade, not only for when it’s raining, but also to get people out of the heat of the sun," said Milne. "It also has a wonderful warehouse space that will be used as respite during the hot months as well."

It is the only structured campsite in Phoenix for those experiencing homeless. People like Billy Ray Glass, who says he is still waiting for his housing opportunity.

"It’s been a year already," said Glass.

Milne said Phoenix will have 790 new shelter beds coming on board, as well as prioritizing housing.

"Our true focus is now affordable housing and supportive housing, specifically for folks exiting that shelter system," said Milne.

Meanwhile, Phoenix City Councilmember Ann O’Brien is proposing a 600-feet camping ban around schools, daycares and shelters, similar to bans in San Diego and Los Angeles County. Also, Community Court in Phoenix is set to begin next week, meaning homeless individuals cited for misdemeanors can choose services, instead of being charged in the traditional court system.