Judge orders removal of tents from Phoenix's largest homeless … – The Arizona Republic

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A judge on Monday ordered Phoenix to remove tents on public property in the city’s largest homeless encampment.
The encampment, near 12th Avenue and Madison Street and known as “The Zone,” is at the center of a lawsuit, Brown v. City of Phoenix, between the city and nearby residents and business owners who argue that the encampment is a public nuisance. They said they have witnessed people using drugs, littering and defecating on their properties and that the city hasn’t done enough to stop these and other problems.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Scott Blaney’s order to remove the tents “as soon as is practicable” precedes a trial in the case scheduled for July.
“The City of Phoenix shall maintain its public property in The Zone in a condition free of (a) tents and other makeshift structures in the public rights of way; (b) biohazardous materials including human feces and urine, drug paraphernalia, and other trash; and (c) individuals committing offenses against the public order,” the court order states.
The city is reviewing the court’s ruling and remains “committed to addressing the needs of all residents and property owners,” said city spokesperson Kristin Couturier in an emailed statement.
“We continue to work with local and regional partners to address the complex issues surrounding those experiencing homelessness and to connect people in need with safe, indoor spaces and resources to help end their homelessness,” Couturier said.
Roughly 800 to 1,000 people are living in the encampment at any given time, according to a city police officer who testified at a November hearing in the case. More recent counts, in January and February, totaled a population of about 700, according to City Council records.
In the ruling, Blaney condemned the city for how it has handled The Zone’s growing population, including not adequately enforcing laws in the area.
“The City’s refusal to meaningfully enforce statutes and ordinances in The Zone has created a classic ‘siren song’ to certain individuals that are enticed at their peril by The Zone’s drugs, sex, and lack of societal rules,” the ruling states.
The city has taken the position that it cannot give people in the encampment citations for violating public camping laws because of federal court decisions that say a municipality cannot criminally cite unhoused people for sleeping on public property if there is nowhere else for them to go. But Blaney said the city is misinterpreting those decisions by assuming that anyone sleeping in a tent is unable to find other shelter.
The residents and business owners suing the city “are not required to establish that each person in The Zone is service resistant or voluntarily homeless before the City must act,” the ruling states.
Attorney Ilan Wurman, who represents the residents and business owners, said the “ruling is a win both for business owners and the unsheltered community.”
Blaney’s opinion recognizes Phoenix “is ultimately responsible for the humanitarian disaster in The Zone,” Wurman said.
In the ruling, Blaney said Phoenix could create structured campgrounds for unsheltered people but has “refused to pursue this viable, cost-effective option.”
Juliette Rihl covers housing insecurity and homelessness for The Arizona Republic. She can be reached at jrihl@arizonarepublic.com or on Twitter @julietterihl.
Coverage of housing insecurity on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Arizona Community Foundation.


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