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Why Are Arizona Cities Taking Tips from Portland on Homelessness?

February 23, 2024

When you want to get something done right, you probably shouldn’t be taking tips from the people who did it wrong. Yet that’s exactly what some Arizona city officials did: they took a trip to Portland so they could “learn” how to address Arizona’s homelessness crisis, according to emails by officials obtained by the Goldwater Institute.

If cities like Phoenix’s idea of “solving” rampant homelessness is to follow the lead of West Coast liberal havens like Portland, it’s clear Arizonans can’t count on their government for real solutions. That’s why the Arizona Legislature should pass HCR2023/SCR1006 to protect the law-abiding residents, businesses, and property owners whose livelihoods are being destroyed through no fault of their own as their government refuses to enforce the law.

Sponsored by House Speaker Ben Toma and Senate President Warren Petersen, HCR2023/SCR1006 ensures these business and property owners receive just compensation—in the form of a refund for damages—from a government whose failure to safeguard their rights has turned their lives upside down.

“Given our issues and the continued increase in unsheltered homelessness, the crime and other complex problems, we have been in touch with other communities to see what we can learn,” wrote Deputy City Manager Gina Montes, who oversees Phoenix’s Office of Homeless Solutions, in a March 29, 2023, email to her counterparts at other cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area, including Mesa and Glendale. Montes explained that she was planning a trip to Portland to meet with city leadership — and she asked her counterparts to extend the invite to any relevant staff.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to solve a homelessness crisis, Portland is a curious choice. Homelessness increased 65% in Portland between 2015 and 2023 — even as the city spent a whopping $1.7 billion trying to fix the problem. In 2023 alone, homelessness in the Portland area spiked 20% over the previous year. And it’s all happening as Portland’s leaders take a hands-off approach to violent crime, vandalism, and public drug use in once-beautiful parts of town that are now overrun by homeless encampments.

The result is exactly what you would expect. Eighty-seven percent of Portlanders are unsatisfied with the level of public safety in the city, 74% said they were concerned they or their family members would be victims of crimes, and 56% said they would leave the city if they could afford it, according to recent polling.

As Phoenix faces similar challenges — rampant homelessness and skyrocketing violent crime made worse by the government’s failure to enforce the law — this is the approach that Phoenix officials are trying to emulate?

It’s no surprise that Montes’ invitation got some pushback. “Okay to go on a site visit BUT why Portland and Seattle exactly?” wrote Mesa’s then-deputy city manager. “Our feedback was the same as Mesa’s – happy to participate but not sure Portland is the right field trip,” added Glendale’s director of community services.

It didn’t matter, as several cities attended the trip, including officials from Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Avondale.

Arizonans clearly can’t trust their government to make things better. Consider that it took a court order for Phoenix to finally clean up its homeless “Zone” — one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments, where law and order gave way to death and destruction — after years of shunting homeless people into the area. Yet there was no compensation for the law-abiding Phoenicians when their livelihoods were destroyed—even as they paid taxes for public health and safety services they did not receive.

That’s why law-abiding property and business owners can claim a refund for damages under HCR2023/SCR1006 for the mitigation expenses incurred as a result of the government’s failure to safeguard their rights.

If the government isn’t going to solve the problem, Arizonans need to take matters into their own hands. This law empowers them to do just that.



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