Frequently Searched

Court Could Help Clean Up Homelessness Chaos in This City, and Yours

March 31, 2023

Cities nationwide are struggling under a homelessness epidemic, but the situation is particularly grim in Phoenix, where city leaders set aside a section of downtown as an unofficial open-air shelter known colloquially as “The Zone.” Over 1,000 people now reside there, sleeping in tents on the sidewalks, where the city effectively ceased to enforce laws against drug use, public sex, defecation and urination on public and private property, and even violent crimes. Now things might begin to change, thanks to a decision by a state court judge who on Monday ruled that The Zone constitutes an illegal public nuisance.

That ruling came after law-abiding business and property owners of the neighboring area sued the city on the grounds that by inviting homeless people to reside there—and even transporting them there from other neighborhoods—Phoenix was effectively operating a giant homelessness facility. But state law requires such facilities to protect the rights of neighbors. If a church or other community organization invites people into a neighborhood to loiter, commit crimes, and violate anti-pollution laws by using the gutters as toilets, it can be held liable for operating a nuisance. That’s precisely what happened in a famous 1985 state Supreme Court case involving a church that offered daily meals to the homeless. The homeless people remained in the area, ruining property and committing other crimes, and the court ruled that although the church’s motives were “entirely admirable,” it was illegally imposing “the costs of a charitable enterprise…in their entirety upon the residents of a single neighborhood.”

Read the rest of the op-ed at Fox News

Timothy Sandefur is the Vice President for Legal Affairs at the Goldwater Institute.



More on this issue

Donate Now

Help all Americans live freer, happier lives. Join the Goldwater Institute as we defend and strengthen freedom in all 50 states.

Donate Now

Since 1988, the Goldwater Institute has been in the liberty business — defending and promoting freedom, and achieving more than 400 victories in all 50 states. Donate today to help support our mission.

We Protect Your Rights

Our attorneys defend individual rights and protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Need Help? Submit a case.

Get Connected to Goldwater

Sign up for the latest news, event updates, and more.