A judge recently ordered the city of Phoenix, Arizona, to permanently clear out a
known as "the Zone" by November 4.
On Wednesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Scott Blaney issued a ruling on a lawsuit filed by Phoenix residents and business owners concerning the city's largest homeless encampment. They claimed Phoenix "created, maintained, and/or failed to abate a public nuisance."
According to the Goldwater Institute , more than 1,000 unhoused people reside in the Zone, sleeping in makeshift tents on the sidewalks. However, a count conducted just last week put the number closer to 500, according to KPNX .
Residents have reported seeing open-air drug use, public sex, defecation, and urination, the law firm stated. In addition, the area around the Zone has experienced an uptick in violent crimes, including shootings, stabbings, and rapes, the Goldwater Institute claimed.
Earlier this year, Blaney declared that Phoenix had violated the state's nuisance laws by neglecting to shut down the encampment.
The Wednesday ruling stated that Phoenix "intentionally stopped – or at least materially decreased – enforcement of criminal, health, and other quality of life statutes and ordinances in the Zone."
In July, Blaney ordered the city to take steps to clear out the area. The city requested a deadline of April 2024, claiming that the process would take time.
Blaney instead placed a deadline of November 4, noting that Phoenix would have had approximately "eight months to address conditions in the Zone since the date the Court issued the Preliminary Injunction," "fifteen months from the date the Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit," and "nearly two years from the date that Plaintiffs first sought assistance from — and presented a viable plan to — their City Council representative and other City officials."
"The Court therefore finds little merit to any argument that a 45-day deadline does not allow sufficient time for the City to complete the clean-up," Blaney stated.
In response to the judge's order, a Phoenix spokesperson said , "The City is addressing the area around the Human Services Campus strategically, one block at a time to ensure we can offer every individual we engage with shelter. The City is reviewing the Court's ruling and exploring legal options."
Blaney claimed that the city would not have made any effort to clean up the homeless encampment unless "forced to do so."
"The City failed to take any meaningful action toward addressing the conditions in the Zone until this Court issued the Preliminary Injunction," Blaney noted. "City witnesses admitted at trial that the reason that they are now closing the streets to additional camping is because of the existence of the Preliminary Injunction."
In a 9-0 vote on Wednesday, the Phoenix City Council approved a $13.3 million plan to open a five-and-a-half acre homeless campground equipped with restrooms, showers, and a cooling area. The site will be monitored by security.
A hearing is set for November 30 to determine whether the city permanently cleared the illegal encampment.
A press release from the Goldwater Institute stated, "This is not at all the end of The Zone story. In addition to the city's reluctance to enforce the law, there's also the pending federal case, and the possibility that the city will appeal this ruling to the Arizona Court of Appeals. But today's ruling is at least a vindication of the rights of the innocent property and business owners in The Zone who have been bearing the burden of the city's refusal to do its duty—and a first step toward actually addressing the problems of homelessness in Phoenix."
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