Crews clear out another block of ‘The Zone’ homeless encampment in Phoenix

"The Zone" has been court ordered to be cleared by July, and the City of Phoenix is taking more aggressive action as the deadline nears.
Published: May. 31, 2023 at 9:10 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - For the second time, outreach teams spent Wednesday morning clearing out another block of “The Zone.” That’s the homeless encampment near downtown Phoenix that, at one point this year, was home to about 1,000 people. It comes as the city is up against a court order to show progress in its efforts to clean up the area.

Crews are going block by block and offering shelter and other services to those living on the streets. On Wednesday, they focused on the area near 12th Avenue between Jefferson Street and Washington Street. Since the last sweep three weeks ago, the city’s Office of Homeless Solutions says it’s improving transportation for those going to nearby shelters and they want to make it less stressful for them. Arizona’s Family crews went back to see how the first location fared.

Scott Hall is the deputy director of the Phoenix Office of Homeless Solutions. He said that most of the individuals they met with on Wednesday agreed to go to a shelter and receive assistance. “We were able to offer female shelter, family shelter, specialty population youth, people with domestic issues, male and female, storage opportunities,” said Hall. “We were able to offer all these things to everybody today.”

But not everyone is convinced the city’s plan to clear out The Zone is working. A number of Phoenix residents are seeing new homeless encampments pop up in other parts of Phoenix, and they believe it’s directly related to what’s going on downtown. “That’s what going to end up happening,” said Tom DiSilva of Phoenix. “They’re just going to find new neighborhoods to go into. It’s very simple, they have to find a new place.”

City officials insist what’s going on in The Zone is not related to homeless issues in other communities. “Fourty-seven out of 60 accepted services over here,” said Hall. “We’re having similar success here today, so to blame the other unsheltered around the city on this, is not accurate. We are continuing to engage with these folks and have outreach programs, putting more resources in place.” A city spokesperson said they connected with 43 individuals Wednesday and 32 of them agreed to go into a shelter.

Hall was asked about claims about property being taken without it being given to the correct owner. “Well I won’t speak to pending litigation,” he said. “But what I can tell you is we have the ability to offer everybody indoor shelter. We have the ability to store people’s belongings if they chose to do so. If someone choses not to take any of those options, they can take whatever belongings they want. So we haven’t thrown away any of those belongings who haven’t agreed to whatever’s left to take.”

One big concern is the availability of shelter beds in Phoenix. Hall tells Arizona’s Family there were enough for the last engagement opportunity and for this one too.

“If everybody were to stand up and say, ‘shelter now,’ yes we would be in an absolute crisis,” he said. “But that’s why were going in the pace we’re going. Because we continue to stand up new shelters. The city of Phoenix we just got another hotel we’re operating as a shelter.”

One of the organizations that is helping is Central Arizona Shelter Services. Lisa Glow, the CEO, says not everyone is accepting shelter or services, which is pretty typical. “It can take many interactions before someone might say, ‘hey I’m ready to leave the streets.’” Glow said. “So there will be people that don’t accept services that’s happening as well. But you still have to keep persisting. It might take awhile.” How did we get here? In part, Glow points to a lack of affordable housing, rising rent, other economic factors and the opioid crisis.

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