Phoenix Officials Ask Judge for More Time in Clearing Downtown Camp of Homeless People

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) -- Phoenix officials announced Tuesday that they had been clearing out hundreds of homeless people from an encampment in downtown Phoenix called "The Zone," and asked a court for more time so they could clear the last hundreds who were still there.

Around a year before, up to 1,000 people were living in the tent city which exploded during the COVID-19 epidemic. Up to 300 people left the tent city since efforts were launched to move them to shelters or temporary or permanent housing in late 2022. Shelters in the area are usually full.

Justin Pierce, representing Phoenix, told Judge Scott Blaney there had been many improvements since the court's March order that Phoenix reduce the public nuisance created by the encampment.

Gina Montes, the Deputy City Manager of Phoenix, testified in court that Phoenix had identified a site for a camping facility with showers and bathrooms for those who do not have housing. The city hopes to have it open by the end of summer.

Lawyers representing local business owners and residents say the city takes too long to act and does not do enough.

Blaney stated that he would make a decision in 60 days, and asked the two sides to submit their findings and conclusions before the court by August 11.

The civil case is one of two that Phoenix faces.

Phoenix, like many other large cities, has struggled to find a balance between the needs of homeowners and businesses with those of the homeless. In 2019, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that homeless people could not be criminalized if there are no other options.

In a federal suit, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona claimed that by clearing the area slowly, the city was violating the constitutional right of the unhoused. The ACLU asked U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow to declare Phoenix in violation of a December ruling he made. Snow refused and said he wouldn't bar the city for further cleanups on the encampment until another hearing.