Trial begins over Phoenix homeless encampment, ‘The Zone’

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Monday was the beginning of a high-profile trial over Phoenix’s largest homeless encampment, “The Zone.” The Arizona Republic’s Housing Insecurity Reporter Juliette Rihl joined Arizona Horizon to discuss the trial.

The state court lawsuit, Brown v. City of Phoenix, was filed in August by residents and business owners who say the sprawling downtown encampment is a public nuisance and that the city hasn’t done enough to fix the problem. The suit is one of three legal disputes the city is contending with over how it has handled the snowballing homelessness crisis.

Brown represents a number of business owners and residents around the area where the encampment is located. The group said they have experienced damages to their properties and have been subjected to violence and crimes, Rihl said.

Approximately 700 to 900 homeless individuals live within the encampment and in the surrounding downtown Phoenix area and neighborhoods, Rihl said. Business owners and residents want the City of Phoenix to be held accountable for the damages the encampment is causing their properties since the area is city property.

“They’ve described witnessing people injecting drugs on their property, defecating on their property, even engaging in sex acts out in the open. They have a number of complaints,” Rihl said.

In response to the lawsuit, the City of Phoenix has taken action to clean up and remove the encampment block by block. A judge issued an order to the City to have the area cleared out and show progress by the next trial date.

“In May, the city began clearing out the encampment; every two to three weeks, they tackle one block. They’ve said that the reason for going at that pace is so they can have an indoor shelter space to offer everyone who they are asking to move. The city doesn’t have 900 shelter beds available at any one given time,” Rihl said.

The city has converted hotels into shelters for the people in the encampment. Rihl said the City of Phoenix has already agreed to clean up “The Zone,” but the court wants to enforce deadlines in order to make sure the City adheres to the agreement.

Juliette Rihl, Housing Insecurity Reporter at The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com

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