Phoenix officials ask judge for more time in clearing downtown camp of homeless people

FILE - A large homeless encampment is shown in Phoenix, on Aug. 5, 2020. The city of Phoenix is scheduled go to court Monday, July 10, 2023, to prove it has met a deadline to clear a large homeless encampment, an action that has drawn pushback from civil rights advocates. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
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Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — Phoenix city officials said Tuesday they have been slowly and steadily clearing hundreds of people from a downtown encampment of homeless people called “The Zone,” and they asked a judge for more time to clear out the remaining hundreds still living there.

About a year ago, as many as 1,000 people lived in the tent city that exploded in size during the COVID-19 pandemic. City officials say up to 300 people have since left the site under efforts launched in late 2022 to get them into shelters, or into temporary or permanent housing. Area shelters are typically full.

Representing Phoenix, attorney Justin Pierce told Judge Scott Blaney that much progress has been made since March, when the court ordered Phoenix to lessen the public nuisance the encampment created.

Deputy City Manager Gina Montes testified that Phoenix has now identified a property for a structured camping site with bathrooms and showers for those without housing, which it hopes to open by summer’s end.

Attorneys for area business owners and residents said the city is taking too long and is not doing enough.

Blaney said he would issue a decision within 60 days and asked both sides to file their findings and conclusions with the court on Aug. 11.

This civil suit is one of two facing Phoenix.

Like several other major cities, Phoenix has been challenged to balance the concerns of businesses and homeowners with the rights of homeless people. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2019 that homeless people cannot be criminalized for sleeping outside if no alternatives exist.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona argued in a federal lawsuit that the city is violating the constitutional rights of unhoused people by slowly clearing the area. However, U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow declined the ACLU’s request in May to declare Phoenix in contempt of a ruling he issued in December and said he would not bar the city from further cleanups at the encampment site pending another hearing.