Phoenix must clean up The Zone by November 4, judge says; city approves homeless campground

A judge's ruling on Wednesday said Phoenix has six weeks to clean up the large homeless encampment known as The Zone.
Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 4:07 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — In a ruling released on Wednesday, a judge has given the city of Phoenix a deadline to clean up the Valley’s largest homeless encampment known as The Zone. Judge Scott Blaney said the city has until Nov. 4 to get rid of all the tents, “makeshift structures,” and debris near the Human Services Campus in the area of 12th Avenue and Jefferson Street. A hearing on Nov. 30 is scheduled to see if the city has complied. Blaney said the city won’t clean up the area unless it is forced to and has had eight months to clear the area. The city said it’s disappointed with the ruling. “The City is addressing the area around the Human Services Campus strategically, one block at a time to ensure we can offer every individual we engage with shelter. The City is reviewing the Court’s ruling and exploring legal options,” a Phoenix spokeswoman said.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by business owners in the area. They claimed the city had done nothing to deal with the sprawling homeless encampment known as The Zone and that it was causing an increase in crime, drug use in the streets and biohazards affecting their businesses. Blaney ruled in March the city had to clean the area up and the first cleanup happened on May 10. More cleanups took place later in the month and in June, with city officials saying the cleanups had been more successful than they anticipated. They said in August, about 80% of the homeless people they talked to accepted help.

But according to Blaney’s ruling, only about 25% to 45% of homeless people would agree to go to shelters. He also said the city wouldn’t have done anything if it weren’t for the lawsuit and the injunction, forcing the cleanups. “The City failed to take any meaningful action toward addressing the conditions in the Zone until this Court issued the Preliminary Injunction,” Blaney said in the ruling. “City witnesses admitted at trial that the reason that they are now closing the streets to additional camping is because of the existence of the Preliminary Injunction.”

Also on Wednesday, the Phoenix City Council gave final approval to a plan to build a homeless campground in downtown. The move rezones the state land near 15th Avenue and Jefferson Street. City leaders say the guarded outdoor complex will have 200 spaces, showers, bathrooms and shade. It will cost $13.3 million and will be funded through the Arizona Department of Housing.

While all the councilors voted for the rezoning, some were skeptical about how well it would work. “We need to do this because we need to provide a form of shelter in The Zone. However, I am concerned about providing a place where the rules will be limited based on discussions we’ve had,” Councilwoman Ann O’Brien said. “I will vote yes, but I am doing it with much caution.”

Other councilors shared similar thoughts at the meeting. “I don’t know if we have the police power to police this adequately, and I don’t know if that’s going to change,” Councilman Jim Waring said. “To the neighbors, we have failed you over decades. I understand that. I don’t know what else to do but vote for this.” The city plans to buy the land in October and begin building the homeless campground soon after.

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