'The Zone': Phoenix to show compliance with court order to clear homeless encampment

The city of Phoenix went to court Monday to prove it has met a deadline to clear a large homeless encampment, an action that has drawn pushback from civil rights advocates.

As part of a civil lawsuit, city officials will have a three-day trial to show they have complied with a judge’s order and cleaned up the area known as "The Zone."

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Scott Blaney sided with business owners and residents in June and declared the tent city in south Phoenix a public nuisance.

He also found that while the city was following a law against criminalizing public camping, it arbitrarily enforced others despite health and safety risks. The plaintiffs described having to witness drug activity, lewd acts and other criminal activity in front of their door or steps away from their property.

Like several other major cities, Phoenix has had to balance the concerns of employers and homeowners with respecting the rights of homeless people.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2019 that homeless people cannot be criminalized for sleeping outside if no alternatives exist.

This civil suit is one of two facing Phoenix.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona argued in a federal lawsuit that the city is violating the constitutional rights of unhoused people by slowly clearing the area.


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Phoenix leaders stress this would be 100% voluntary, with all of these services preparing homeless people to move to an indoor shelter or off the streets entirely.

U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow, however, declined the ACLU’s request in May to declare Phoenix in contempt of a ruling he issued in December. Snow said he would not bar the city from further cleanups at the encampment site pending another hearing.

In the December ruling, Snow ordered the city to refrain from enforcing camping and sleeping bans against people who cannot obtain shelter, nor can their property be seized.

At the end of the trial, the judge can rule one of two ways. Either leave The Zone alone or clear it all and permanently.

"There is no fix for all homelessness," says Judge Glock, witness and director of research at the Manhattan Institute. "When you compare different cities and their different enforcement regimes or policies, those cities that do allow more public camping and so forth tend to have more people moving into the city and those cities and states that have more enforcement tend to have fewer people moving into them."

Along with the cleanings, the city has been working with non-profits to find alternative housing opportunities.

However, they say it’s been difficult with the significant rise in people experiencing homelessness, the closure of several alleged fraudulent sober living homes, plus they’ve had setbacks with potential new shelter locations.

They need more time.

"The city plans to construct its own shelter made up of sprung structures, three sprung structures and some noncongregate converted shipping containers," says Rachel Milne, director of Phoenix's Office of Homeless Solutions.