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What Happened at Phoenix’s Homeless ‘Zone’ Trial?

July 12, 2023

Will the city of Phoenix protect all its citizens’ rights in its homeless “Zone” without a court mandate?

Right now, the answer is a resounding “no.” That was the main takeaway from this week’s state court trial in a lawsuit brought by a group of property owners who have suffered violence, property destruction, pollution, and other injuries from the city’s actions in creating and maintaining The Zone, a massive homeless encampment in downtown Phoenix. Those plaintiffs argue that by transporting people to The Zone and refusing to enforce the law in that area, the city is maintaining an illegal “public nuisance.” (The Goldwater Institute filed a brief in support of the property and business owners’ rights.)

After two days full of testimony from a commander in the Phoenix Police Department, a policy expert, business owners, and employees from the city’s Office of Homeless Solutions in the city of Phoenix, the trial can be summed up in one question posed by Judge Scott Blaney: “Will the city of Phoenix abate the public nuisance if the court does not mandate them to do so?”

In March, Judge Blaney rejected the city’s effort to have the lawsuit thrown out, and issued a preliminary injunction commanding the city to take steps to eliminate the nuisance. This week at the trial, Judge Blaney, who said he’d issue a ruling within 60 days, pointed out that he granted the preliminary injunction in part due to the city’s lack of progress in providing solutions for those living on the street and the business owners harmed by the city’s failure to enforce the law. Judge Blaney had given the city until July 10, this past Monday, to abate the nuisance, but officials have not done so. Since he granted the preliminary injunction in late March, the city has cleaned three blocks of The Zone—and took the entire month of June off from cleaning the area. Homeless individuals are allowed to move to other parts of The Zone that have not yet been cleaned up, which has pushed the estimated 906 people on the streets into a more concentrated area than before. In fact, more people are on the streets of The Zone now than when Judge Blaney issued the preliminary injunction.

Meanwhile, the city is again touting its grand visions of implementing a “safe outdoor space”—in other words, a structured campground with 24/7 security. Yet employees of the Office of Homeless Solutions said this structured campground won’t be ready for inhabitants until at least October.

By all counts, Phoenix has failed. The city has failed in abating the public nuisance, it has failed at finding real solutions, and it has failed to do anything but offer unrealistic visions for the future and false hope. The preliminary injunction forced the city to act, but there is no reason to believe that without further mandates from the court, the city will abate the nuisance or provide any relief for the business owners who have been suffering for years.

Within 60 days, we will find out if Judge Blaney agrees.

Austin VanDerHeyden is the Municipal Affairs Liaison at the Goldwater Institute.



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