Phoenix Spending 25 Percent of COVID Relief on Homelessness, Affordable Housing

Phoenix Spending 25 Percent of COVID Relief on Homelessness, Affordable Housing

By Corinne Murdock |

The city of Phoenix plans to spend over 25 percent of its $396 million in COVID-19 relief funds on homelessness and affordable housing initiatives. It is the city’s second-highest expenditure of relief funds after city operations. 

According to the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) plan for this year, over $99.5 million will be spent on homelessness and affordable housing. The majority of this, around $75.5 million, is slated to address the homelessness crisis. 

Even with tens of millions allocated to mitigate the homeless crisis, notorious encampments like “The Zone” continue to worsen. City spokespersons informed reporters in September that the city is working to approve contracts and allocate the funds, which expire in 2024.

Earlier this week, the state’s largest homeless shelter told 12 News that they lacked enough resources to meet community needs, though they receive city funding. The city announced on Wednesday that it allocated $8 million to expand shelters for homeless families.

Comparatively, the city’s allocation of relief funds for other initiatives amounted to far less. 

Financial, utility, and rent assistance for low-income families totaled $26 million altogether — about one-fourth of what’s slated for homelessness and affordable housing. Funds to advance the city’s workforce training facility and program, as well as establish workforce tuition and apprenticeship programs, totaled $28.5 million. 

Concerning COVID-19 mitigation, the city allocated $28.9 million for testing and vaccines. From last July until the end of June, the city provided nearly 120,000 tests and 15,700 vaccines.

The city also allocated $28 million for COVID-19 health care expenses for its workers, and another $22 million to give premium pay for its essential workers. The city’s revenue replacement totaled $20 million. It set aside $23 million to rehabilitate a recycling facility and manage stormwater projects with the county’s flood control district.

$6 million went to tuition assistance and college prep for high school students, with another $3 million to update the Mesquite Library. $5.9 million went toward public Wi-Fi, with a small portion of that allocated for laptops and hotspots for the community, and $22 million to improve internet connectivity in certain neighborhoods. 

$8.3 million went to refugees. $10.5 million went to climate-related initiatives: $6 million to plant trees, and $4.5 million to make 200 homes energy efficient. 

Child care-related initiatives received $14.8 million, with the majority slated for airport employee child care and establishing an early childhood education program for 300 children. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Tucson Launches Homeless Encampment Reporting Tool as Crisis Worsens

Tucson Launches Homeless Encampment Reporting Tool as Crisis Worsens

By Corinne Murdock |

The city of Tucson is ramping up efforts to mitigate homeless encampments through a new reporting tool launched Thursday.

Citizens may report homeless encampments here

Outreach coordinators will relay the report to the Tucson Police Department (TPD), who will place the report in one of three tiers of urgency: an unoccupied, low-risk site requiring clean up; an occupied, low-risk site requiring clean up and assistance for the homeless; and an occupied site with safety or health risks requiring clean-up and homeless relocation within 72 hours.

It appears that unless an encampment is classified as tier three, outreach teams may not respond for months. Locals complain on social media that their reports for homeless encampment cleanup go unheard. 

Other than reporting the homeless encampments and hoping the city will take action, there’s not much else citizens can do. Earlier this month, a management company was fined for cutting down trees outside properties where the homeless gathered.

The city also prohibits feeding the homeless in public parks, with law enforcement saying that it incentivizes the homeless to not advance beyond their situation. 

Mari Vasquez, the city’s community risk reduction manager handling homeless protocol, told reporters that the city didn’t have an evaluation system before. Vasquez relayed that the city is open to nonprofit assistance to expand homeless response services. 

Prior to this reporting tool, concerned citizens had to email the city about encampments — even then, those reports were limited to those who posed a health or safety risk. During the pandemic, the city followed CDC recommendations to not disband encampments on public property. 

Tucson’s homelessness issue declined from 2017 to 2019. Then from 2019 to 2020, the city experienced a 60 percent increase in homelessness.

The city’s Housing & Community Development Department oversees a coalition of 50 government, not-for-profit, and faith-based groups called the Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness (TPCH). Despite the coalition receiving over $10 million in federal funding to mitigate homelessness, as well as various other city funding efforts, the crisis continues.

The disconnect between the city’s millions to solve the homeless crisis and the worsening state of the problem is evidenced by a popular YouTube channel, “Goodness in People.” The man behind the account feeds, clothes, and visits with the many homeless of the city. Between his video evidence and government data on the homeless population, it’s unclear if the city’s approach is having any positive impact on the crisis.

Pima County announced earlier this month that they’re looking into building more shelters for the homeless.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Lawsuit Against City of Phoenix Facilitating Homeless Encampment Gets Boost

Lawsuit Against City of Phoenix Facilitating Homeless Encampment Gets Boost

By Corinne Murdock |

Earlier this month, a lawsuit against the city of Phoenix for facilitating a crime-riddled homeless encampment in the downtown area dubbed “the Zone” received a legal boost. The Zone has over 1,000 individuals, making it the largest homeless encampment in the state and one of the largest homeless encampments in the country. 

The Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based public policy think tank and litigation organization, submitted an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit in early October. They petitioned the court to require the city to clean up The Zone. 

The brief summarized that the city’s dereliction of duty violated multiple laws, including a 1985 Arizona Supreme Court decision constituting the invitation of vagrants into an area as an illegal nuisance as well as state law forbidding cities from maintaining activities that pollute public waterways.

READ: GOLDWATER INSTITUTE AMICUS BRIEF

In a press release, the Goldwater Institute’s vice president for legal affairs, Timothy Sandefur, contested that it was “outrageous” that the city would withhold police protection from the property and business owners within The Zone.

“It’s not compassion to let people live on the streets, in an atmosphere riddled with unpoliced gang violence,” wrote Sandefur. “Hardworking Phoenicians should be able to rely on the public services their tax dollars pay for — and their elected officials owe them a duty to enforce the laws.” 

Sandefur highlighted one of the businesses harmed by the city’s facilitation of The Zone: Arizona Rock Products Association (ARPA), a trade organization for the mining and rock industry. Sandefur relayed how the homeless started fires, left used needles and condoms, defecated and urinated, broke into cars, trespassed, and stole food from a refrigerator on ARPA property. 

“ARPA is one of the many crucial contributors to Arizona’s economy, all of whom deserve to have their public officials enforce the law and protect their rights,” wrote Sandefur. “Yet thanks to this nuisance the city has created, ARPA is finding it increasingly difficult to do business at all in Arizona.”

The case, Brown v. City of Phoenix (CV2022-010439), was filed in August in the Maricopa County Superior Court and will be heard by Judge Alison Bachus. 

The 19 plaintiffs represent property and business owners located within The Zone: Freddy Brown, Joel and Jo-Ann Coplin, Joseph and Deborah Faillace, Karl Freund, Gallery 119, Michael Godbehere, Jordan Evan Greeman, Rozella Hector, Daniel and Dianne Langmade, Ian Likwarz, Matthew and Michael Lysiak, Old Station Sub Shop, PBF Manufacturing Company, Phoenix Kitchens Spe, and Don Stockman. 

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs accused the city of Phoenix of concentrating the homeless population within The Zone. The plaintiffs noted that city officials had full authority to adopt “irrational” policies, but asserted that those policies couldn’t cause nuisance and damage to civilians. 

“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 plaintiffs noted that a “substantial portion” of the homeless residents within The Zone were mentally ill or addicted to drugs, and consistently in violation of quality-of-life ordinances prohibiting loitering, disturbing the peace, drunken and disorderly conduct, drug use, domestic violence, and obstruction of streets, sidewalks, and other public grounds.

“In the Zone and its environs, laws are violated with impunity; residents are subject to violence, property damage, and other criminal and civil violations of laws designed to protect the quality of life of residents; property values have been erased; trash and human waste litter streets and yards; and, most tragically, a great humanitarian crisis unfolds as homeless residents of the Zone die on daily basis,” read the lawsuit. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Phoenix Officials Are Challenged In Court To Address Concentration Of Homeless In Downtown Zone

Phoenix Officials Are Challenged In Court To Address Concentration Of Homeless In Downtown Zone

By Terri Jo Neff |

A lawsuit filed this week by several residents, business owners, and property owners within a multi-block “zone” of downtown Phoenix seeks a court order requiring city officials to do something about the unabating homelessness crisis impacting the 19 plaintiffs.

According to the lawsuit, the largest concentration of homeless persons in Arizona has developed on properties owned by or operated by the City of Phoenix in an area between 7th and 15th Avenues and between Van Buren and Grant Streets.

Many of the persons who have constructed semi-permanent tent dwellings on public sidewalks and rights of way are experiencing mental health problems and / or drug and alcohol addiction, but city officials have enacted policies which essentially ignore those issues to the detriment of the community, the plaintiffs allege.

“Not only is the City of Phoenix failing to provide these individuals with housing and needed services, it refuses to enforce in and around the Zone quality-of-life ordinances prohibiting loitering, disturbing the peace, drunken and disorderly conduct, drug use, domestic violence, and obstructing streets, sidewalks, or other public grounds,” the lawsuit contends. “The City’s policies are not rationally designed to address any of the social ills facing the residents of the Zone and are exacerbating rather than alleviating their problems.”

Those policies not only permit illegal conduct on Phoenix-controlled public lands but city officials further encourage problems by directing homeless persons from around the city to the Zone, according to the lawsuit.

“In the Zone and its environs, laws are violated with impunity; residents are subject to violence, property damage, and other criminal and civil violations of laws designed to protect the quality of life of residents; property values have been erased; trash and human waste litter streets and yards; and most tragically, a great humanitarian crisis unfolds as homeless residents of the Zone die on a daily basis,” the lawsuit notes.

The plaintiffs seeking an order from Judge Alison Bachus of the Maricopa County Superior Court that the public encampments in Zone has created a public nuisance for which plaintiffs have a constitutional right to seek abatement of the nuisance

In addition, the lawsuit seeks an order from Bachus prohibiting city officials from taking any further action that will exacerbate the current nuisance and a separate order requiring the city to immediately abate the nuisance.

The lawsuit even points to several options available to city officials, including removal of the encampments to other public lands where they would not constitute a nuisance. Another option permitted by a 2019 federal ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is to create “structured camping grounds” on city property where cleanliness could be maintained along with compliance of laws and ordinances.

A more traditional option would be the availability of enough shelter space so that public camping could be prohibited. However, the lawsuit concedes the Ninth Circuit ruling currently prohibits enforcement of a public camping ban because City of Phoenix officials have failed to provide sufficient resources to address the homelessness issue.

That 2019 ruling requires municipalities to allow homeless individuals to camp on some public lands if there are not enough shelter beds. But nothing in the ruling, Martin v City of Boise, prohibits officials from enforcing quality of life ordinances and criminal laws, the plaintiffs argue.

Those plaintiffs are represented by Michael Bailey, Stephen Tully, and Ilan Wurman. They contend city officials are using the Ninth Circuit ruling “as an excuse to completely wash its hands of this crisis, leaving the homeless individuals and the surrounding neighborhood in an unimaginably horrific situation.”

The lawsuit adds Phoenix officials are entitled to adopt “irrational policies but if its policies create a nuisance and cause damage to the residents, workers, and property owners in the Zone, as they have, then the City is liable for those damages and the court may enjoin the nuisance.”

$6.8 Million ‘Medical Respite Center’ for Homeless to Open in Tucson

$6.8 Million ‘Medical Respite Center’ for Homeless to Open in Tucson

By Corinne Murdock |

On Tuesday a groundbreaking occurred for Tucson’s first forthcoming $6.8 million “medical respite center” exclusively for the homeless. Medical respite centers are short-term residences and caregiving locations for the homeless that are ill or injured enough to warrant assistance but not hospitalization. 

As of mid-March, the initiative raised just under $3.5 million. Major funders include the Diane & Bruce Halle Foundation, St. Joseph Catholic Healthcare Endowment Fund, Connie Hillman Foundation, Southwest Catholic Health Network, Ginny L. Clements and Tom Rogers, O’Rielly Family Foundation, Del E. Webb Foundation, Jim and Vicki Click, William and Mary Ross Foundation, Margaret E. Mooney Foundation, PetSmart Charities, Union Pacific, Raskob Foundation, and the Sundt Foundation. 

The Medical Respite Center for Men and Women Experiencing Homelessness will be 15,000 square feet and include housing for 10 women and 36 men, a small group therapy space, activity areas, a cafeteria, a kitchen, a pet play area, and a chapel. 

The nonprofits behind the medical respite center are Catholic Community Services (CCS) of Southern Arizona and the H.S. Lopez Family Foundation Center of Opportunity. CCS has been involved in housing illegal immigrants under federal contracts over the last year. 

In September, AZ Free News reported that an undisclosed number of Haitian illegal immigrants and refugees were bussed or flown into Tucson. CCS ran a shelter in Tucson called Casas Alitas. 

Also behind the medical respite center is El Rio Health Center, a dental and medical center that receives federal funds from Health and Human Services (HHS) and is has federal status under the Federal Public Health Service (PHS). 

According to the Tucson Housing and Community Development, there were an estimated 1,660 homeless people on any given night in Pima County in 2020. Those experiencing chronic homelessness in the county were estimated to be around 380. 

Tucson is plagued with a homelessness crisis currently. Councilman Steve Kozachik said that the current number of homeless people are beyond past trends. Those rising numbers correspond with an increase in homeless deaths, as reported by the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office. 

In a statement to KGUN9, Kozachik said that he was attempting to convince the rest of the council to establish controlled encampments to counteract the masses of temporary encampments occurring naturally where the homeless congregate and settle. 

“I think the rest of the council simply does not like the optics, and they believe allowing an encampment to exist constitutes a failure,” said Kozachik. “I have a different perspective. Squeezing the balloon and moving people around from camp-to-camp week to week is the failure.”

Controlled encampments have begun to pop up in the major cities experiencing homelessness crises in other states, such as Denver, Colorado and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Denver launched its first controlled encampment last November. In April, the city and county asked federal appeals judges to rescind court-ordered standards on homeless encampment cleanups intended to preserve public health and safety.

Albuquerque hasn’t established controlled encampments yet, but it’s likely they will soon. Their city council is looking to amend its zoning code to allow for encampments managed mostly by churches or nonprofits: tents with facilities like restrooms called “safe outdoor spaces.”

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.