'It is simply inhumane': Phoenix homeless advocates criticize city sweeps of encampments

The homeless crisis in downtown Phoenix is only getting worse and advocates say the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of affordable housing are to blame.

For now, the community is calling for the city to stop homeless encampment cleanups as they essentially destroy the only homes they have.

Three times a week, the city accompanied by police conduct encampment cleanups, which has sparked complaints of illegal property seizures.

The week following Christmas, the city of Phoenix's homeless encampment cleanups were put on hold due to the rain and mud, and community advocates say they hope this will be the new normal.

Earlier in the year, the Department of Justice announced it would investigate concerns involving the city's police department's alleged misuse of force, and illegal property seizures.

During these sweeps, many lose their paperwork, medication, and other essentials if they aren't around when the sweeps are conducted.

 "It is simply inhumane, and it needs to stop," says Stacey Champion, an advocate for the homeless community.

The city of Phoenix says the cleanups are conducted in an effort to protect the health and safety of people living in and around the encampment. The city says they do not disperse those who are unsheltered, but advocates say that isn't the case.

"All of these folks have to physically move all of their stuff, they do it block by block, there is a police presence. The encampments have only grown during the pandemic," Champion said.

The shelter is forced to turn people away to the streets because they simply don't have the space.

"We are sheltering over 600 people a night, and we know we have 500 people who are unsheltered in our immediate vicinity," said Amy Schwabenlender, Executive Director of Human Services Campus.

The city says they will not be conducting their sweep on Dec. 31 in observance of the New Year holiday. But as far as the sweep schedule goes, it will continue, as usual, three times a week.

Phoenix Councilwoman, Yassamin Ansari, released a statement on the issue, saying, "Our city is diligently following CDC guidelines but looking at the rising number of COVID-19 cases, and a highly transmissible new variant, it might be time to revisit our cleanup policy to make sure we are working in the safest ways possible. Currently, we are working to bring additional 24/7 bathrooms to the area and I will be fighting to fast-track these critical efforts by securing federal COVID-19 relief funds to do so in the coming weeks."

For more information about homeless resources in Arizona, click here.

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