Phoenix unveils ‘enhanced’ cleanup of ‘The Zone’ downtown homeless tents

Part of that cleaning involves asking the homeless residents to pick up and move to community shelters and drug treatment or other resources if needed.
Published: Apr. 21, 2023 at 12:18 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) The City of Phoenix detailed its latest “enhanced cleanings” effort to clean up the infamous area known as the “The Zone.”

On Friday, city officials announced that it would begin conducting more enhanced cleanings, which have occurred regularly since December. Part of that cleaning involves asking the homeless residents to pick up and move to community shelters and drug treatment or other resources if needed.

“This approach has proven successful; in the five enhanced cleanings since December, more than two-thirds of people have accepted services and were transported immediately to an indoor location,” the city wrote on its blog, noting that those who refuse the help will be forced to leave the area and not return.

About a month ago, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered the clean-up as part of a lawsuit involving several downtown business owners who expressed concerns about an increase in crime in the community. It’s no secret that the homeless encampment is known to have open drug use, biohazard concerns, and occasional break-ins at nearby businesses. As a result, Judge Scott Blaney ruled the city is maintaining a “public nuisance,” and city officials must show evidence at a July 10 hearing that they’re cleaning the area.

Rachel Milney is director of Phoenix’s Office of Homeless Solutions. She said there won’t be any massive sweeps to get everyone out in a day. Instead, they’ll be taking a targeted approach, connecting with each individual, one-by-one, offering them shelter and resources to get off the street.

According to Milney, the biggest challenge now is, there are currently not enough shelter beds for everyone. “I’m happy to say in the five blocks we’ve already addressed since December, we have been able to offer every single person an indoor place to go,” said Milney. “Looking forward, we accelerate our timeline with everyone out there. This is biggest challenge, we do not have enough indoor places for everyone.”

Additional plans in the works include an extra 800 shelter beds by the end of 2024. The city also said that its exploring leasing hotel space for more shelter space, identifying more land opportunities to build additional resources, or creating a 24/7 outdoor space to provide restrooms, security, and shade for those experiencing homelessness.

Patrick Scharf is the Chief Operating Officer with CASS, Central Arizona Shelter Services. He said the key to getting folks off the street is developing trust and letting them know there’s a better path ahead. “We can’t expect somebody that has been in a power struggle with the community and society for years, to be approached one day and want to come into one of our shelters,” said Scharf. “We need to build rapport, build relationships with them, give them understanding of what we are trying to offer and support we have for them.”

“The City recognizes that this is a big task. There are roughly 900 people camping outside the [Human Services Campus] every night. We’ve had offers of assistance from our nonprofit partners, philanthropic groups State of Arizona, Maricopa County, and other municipalities. The outpouring of support has been tremendous,” said Milney.

Officials note that the city already leads with community services, offering shelters that accept pets or spaces where couples can remain together. Once individuals are moved out of the Zone, they won’t be allowed to come back. City officials will start meeting with homeless individuals again on May 10.