Federal judge says Phoenix can’t ban homeless encampment but sweeps are OK

The sweeps of the homeless encampment  in downtown Phoenix are set to resume on Friday.
The sweeps of the homeless encampment in downtown Phoenix are set to resume on Friday.(Arizona's Family)
Published: Dec. 15, 2022 at 7:56 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — It was a mixed bag of wins and losses for the ACLU over its lawsuit against the city of Phoenix and the raids of the homeless encampment downtown. A federal judge on Thursday issued an abbreviated order about what the city can and can’t do. It says the city can’t enforce camping and sleeping bans for homeless people or seize any items during the city’s sweeps of the homeless encampment unless the items are an “immediate threat to public health or safety” or may have been used in a crime. If the police take something, they have to wait at least a month before destroying it.

If officers or city employees take something from the encampment that they think was abandoned, they have to leave some sort of notice at the spot where the property was taken so the owner can retrieve it. The judge’s order also said the city can still do the sweeps at Phoenix’s largest homeless encampment, known as The Zone. The city is set to resume those on Friday morning. The sweeps, which usually involved city workers and police officers, were paused at the beginning of 2022. Some have called them “raids,” but the city said the sweeps were done to protect the health and safety of people in the camp. The ACLU claimed homeless people in the encampment lost critical documents, medicine and other belongings during these sweeps and never got them back. “Because of this injunction, unsheltered people won’t be at risk of losing essential belongings, receiving unconstitutional citations, and experiencing further trauma at the hands of the city and Phoenix PD,” Benjamin Rundall, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Arizona, said in a statement.

Also on Wednesday, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge heard arguments about a different lawsuit regarding the homeless in Phoenix. Business owners near The Zone sued the city, claiming the encampment is a public nuisance. The city’s lawyers argued in court it doesn’t have the constitutional obligation to protect the property values of the tenants and owners who filed the lawsuit. Those who filed the lawsuit say they’re concerned for their safety. In five weeks, there have been a couple of incidents in the encampment. A dead newborn was found lying in the street on Nov. 12. Two days later, a few tents caught fire, leaving one man badly injured. The judge, Scott A. Blaney, said he’d get a ruling as quickly as possible, but because it’s a complicated case, it probably won’t come down until next week or later.