By Corinne Murdock |
On Monday, the Maricopa County Superior Court agreed that the city of Phoenix has failed to mitigate its burgeoning homeless crisis. In fact, the court declared that the city ending enforcement of criminal, health, and other statutes and ordinances concerning homelessness in 2019 worsened the crisis.
The court rejected Phoenix’s motion to dismiss in Brown v. Phoenix, citing 11 findings of fact proving that homelessness has only worsened under the city’s watch over the past four years. The court specifically cited the sprawling, growing homeless encampment in central Phoenix: “The Zone.”
“The situation inside the Zone has gotten progressively worse, not better, since 2019 and has become dire since November of 2021,” stated the court.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego became the mayor in 2019.
The court specifically stated that The Zone has resulted in dramatic increases in violent crime, public drug use, break-ins, vandalisms, fires, trespassing, loitering, risk of violent crime, public urination and defecation, trash and human excrement in the streets and along business properties, prostitution, public nudity, lewd acts, tents and encampments blocking property and business access, and deaths of homeless.
Rather than attempting to work out a solution for the increasing homeless, the court said the city ignored plans to ease the burden of The Zone. Residents proposed outdoor camping shelter spaces on city lots to prevent public nuisance. However, the court stated that the city failed to act. The city confirmed during oral argument that it wasn’t considering that proposed solution because the lots wouldn’t come with air conditioning and heat for the homeless. The court rejected that rationale, noting that homeless residents of The Zone live without air conditioning and start bonfires to keep warm.
The lawsuit was brought forth by 19 plaintiffs last August: Phoenix business owners and property owners. Judge Alison Bachus is hearing the case.
One of those businesses is the Arizona Rock Products Association (ARPA), located near The Zone. According to ARPA, the homeless have wreaked havoc on their business: started fires, left used needles and condoms, defecated and urinated, broken into cars, trespassed, and stolen food from a refrigerator on ARPA property.
The lawsuit accuses the city of purposefully concentrating the homeless population into The Zone. The plaintiffs claimed that a “substantial portion” of these homeless were mentally ill, addicted to drugs, and constantly violating the city’s quality-of-life ordinances on loitering, disturbing the peace, drunk and disorderly conduct, drug use, domestic violence, and obstruction of public right-of-ways.
“In short, instead of seeking to solve the homelessness crisis, the City has effectively invited this population to construct semi-permanent tent dwellings on the public sidewalks and rights of way in Plaintiffs’ neighborhood, and to make the Zone their home,” stated the lawsuit. “The City has not only permitted this illegal conduct and maintained it on public lands within its control, but it has also encouraged it through a policy of directing other homeless persons from around the city to the Zone.”
The city’s homeless crisis has only worsened despite spending hundreds of millions in local, state, and federal funds over the last three years to solve the issue.
The city’s attempts to mitigate its growing homelessness problem preceded the pandemic. Weeks before a national emergency was declared nearly three years ago, Gallego was announcing plans on expanding the city’s shelter beds. The mayor told KJZZ that the city’s goal was to get those camping on the streets into shelters.
“I believe strongly that the best solutions are smaller facilities that are more distributed, where people can get more individual attention. But I understand that creating that network of facilities is going to take a long time,” said Gallego.
Throughout 2019, Gallego attempted to mitigate homelessness through billboard campaigns and repurposed parking meters to accept donations, dubbed “giving meters.”
Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to email@example.com.