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ACLU files federal lawsuit to prevent cleanup of garbage left by homeless

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Approximately 1,000 homeless people populate the central region of Phoenix, creating enough waste to necessitate city cleanups three times per week. While local businesses claim the mess is a public nuisance, the American Civil Liberties Union believes constitutional rights are being violated despite ample warning and signage from the city regarding the sweeps.

As reported by KNXV, the ACLU seeks to assist those who are currently in "unsheltered status" who they say are victims of unlawful seizures.

The ACLU refers to the garbage cleanups as "raids," stating that they "indiscriminately seize, impound and destroy unsheltered individuals' personal property and survival gear without cause or warrant."

"Tents, IDs, legal documents, medical paper ... you can't destroy people's property," Benjamin Rundell, attorney for the ACLU of Arizona, told KNXV.

The nonprofit also alleges the garbage sweeps constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" by prohibiting sleeping outside, as well as "unlawfully seizing and destroying" personal property.

The homeless area is so infamous that it garnered the nickname "The Zone." In October 2022, Phoenix radio station KJZZ 91.5 investigated the topic, stating that there are "more than 5,000" homeless people in Maricopa County, Arizona, and "nearly 10,000 if you count those living in shelters."

The homeless population has allegedly nearly doubled since 2016.

In August 2022, local businesses and residents sued the City of Phoenix, claiming they have been harmed by the homelessness crisis. Specifically, the lawsuit alleged that there is a large concentration of homeless people who suffer from varying illnesses and addictions and that the city isn't doing enough to house them nor solve the problem.

"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 stated.

When asked about the "public nuisance," the ACLU attorney stated that the City of Phoenix should come up with a solution that "doesn't violate the Constitution and destroy people's things."

The city claims cleanup will resume in December 2022 and will implement new procedures that will allow people to claim abandoned property, adding that $50 million was dedicated to addressing the homelessness problem in the last fiscal year.

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