By Corinne Murdock |
The city of Phoenix began cleaning up the mass homeless encampment known as The Zone this week, after attempts to resist a court injunction to do so. Local residents and business owners have endured the burgeoning public health and safety hazards of the area for about three years.
The cleanups began on Wednesday. City officials reportedly won’t allow the homeless to return to the area if they don’t find shelter. About 900 homeless camped out in The Zone.
The extent of the waste from the homeless encampments was so great that city workers resorted to using forklifts.
The city also re-released a plan to address homelessness on Wednesday morning, largely centered on doubling down on efforts to place homeless individuals with relevant treatment programs. The plan was published originally late last month.
The city’s plan includes creating 800 more shelter beds by the end of 2024, and parsing out the $140 million committed beginning in July 2021. The city also proposed potentially leasing hotel rooms, using vacant plots, and creating a campsite of sorts.
The city noted in its plan that the five cleanups initiated since December resulted in placement of 67 percent of the several hundred offered services.
The CEO of the shelter at the heart of the Zone, Amy Shwabenlender with Human Services Campus, told AZ Family that the cleanup was necessary, but not a “long-term solution.”
The city of Phoenix unsuccessfully fought the Maricopa County Superior Court order to clean up the Zone earlier this month. Within the same day of the city’s petition to extend the July deadline for cleanup, Maricopa County Superior Court denied the petition. Judge Scott Blaney rejected the city’s claim in its petition that it had already undertaken significant action.
“The Court interprets this argument as meaning the injunction is unnecessary because the City is already taking steps to abate the horrible conditions in the Zone,” wrote Blaney. “But the Court issued the Preliminary Injunction based, in part, upon the City’s past failure to address the issues in The Zone, as well as the City’s apparent lack of intent to do so until faced with possible judicial intervention.”
Blaney ordered the city to commence its cleanup of The Zone in late March. Blaney declared that the city had done nothing to improve the public nuisance caused by the mass homeless encampment burdening the downtown area. Rather, Blaney said that the city’s actions purporting to address the homeless crisis had served only to grow its bureaucracy and ineffective programs initiated by themselves and nonprofits over the years.
“With few exceptions, the action items about which city representatives testified centered around the creation of more bureaucracy, additional staff positions, and obtaining additional funding for programs to vaguely address homelessness in general,” stated Blaney. “The Court received very little evidence — if any — that the City intends to take immediate, meaningful action to protect its constituent business owners, their employees, and residents from the lawlessness and chaos in the Zone.”