Homelessness in Phoenix continues to increase despite the city’s efforts to clear blocks of tents and decrepit conditions.
In June, there were 906 people in the downtown Phoenix area known as ‘The Zone,’ up from 786 in May.
The increase is despite the city finding homes for 84 people cleaned out of the camp in the same time period.
Homelessness has essentially converted Phoenix’s downtown area into a tent city known as ‘The Zone’, housing hundreds of people just as summer temperatures begin to soar.
The city was ordered to clear the zone as a court deemed it a public nuisance, and while one stretch was emptied, others have seen a 15 percent increase in population.
Phoenix cleared the second block of ‘The Zone’ homeless encampment on May 31, 2023, on 12th Avenue between Washington and Jefferson streets in Phoenix
Hundreds of people are homeless under the blazing desert sun just as summer temperatures soar into the 90s
Joel Gonzalez unloaded his belongings at the corner of 9th Avenue and Madison Street after Phoenix cleared the second block of ‘The Zone’ homeless encampment
In March, local business owners sued the city saying that they were contributing to a ‘public nuisance’ in allowing the camp to operate
Of the 104 homeless people the city tried to rehouse during the first two Zone cleanups, only 20 declined. Still, the overall population of the zone continues to increase – showing homelessness in the city of 1.6 million will likely last for awhile.
Officials had previously said they plan to add 800 extra beds in city shelters by 2024 – but even that won’t be enough.
The blocks being cleared so far only became a part of The Zone this year.
Cleanup crews relocate a tent from Ninth Avenue to another street as mandatory removal of ‘The Zone,’ a homeless camp in Phoenix, began last month
Homelessness in Phoenix continues to worsen despite the city’s efforts to address it with more than 100 individuals becoming newly homeless in a month
The city recently intensified its efforts to manage the crisis, as the downtown area has essentially transformed into a tent city known as ‘The Zone’
During the first two Zone cleanups, 84 people were rehoused but the tent city population has gone up from 786 in May to 906 last week
Cleanup crews are seen beginning the mandatory removal of ‘The Zone’ homeless camp
Vanessa Martin packs up her belongings as the cleanup of the Phoenix homeless camp begins
Numbers of homeless in the area have continued to swell since the Covid-19 pandemic. At its height, around 2,000 people called the space home.
The process of removing the encampment is being carried out block-by-block. When people are removed, they will not be allowed to return or they could face a criminal charge.
‘They simply don’t have the capacity until at least next year to have anywhere near the number of people that are actually in the zone,’ Elizabeth Venable, lead organizer and co-founder of the Houseless Leadership Project, said to ABC15.
But city officials insist there is still space available for anyone who requires ‘indoor shelter’ – but there are hundreds in the tent city.
‘Our goal is to go at the pace we’re going right now every 2-3 weeks with each block that way we can offer everybody indoor space or different options for different individuals and not rush people into options that they didn’t want,’ said Scott Hall, the deputy director of the Phoenix Office of Homeless Solutions to ABC News.
Cleanup crews seen on site as they begin the enormous process of removing the encampment
William Nemoff drinks water within his tent in the homeless encampment
The process of removing the encampment is being carried out block-by-block. When people are removed, they will not be allowed to return or they could face a criminal charge
Other organizations are also involved with the cleanup in getting people off the streets and into employment.
‘The ones that have come in are still in our program. They are working towards getting employment and they’re working with their case manager,’ said Mila Valle, the chief program officer for UMOM New Day Centers.
The organization is helping get homeless women and mothers off Phoenix’s streets.
‘The collaboration with the city of Phoenix was great. We are here to support them and helping the individuals and families find a safe place to stay and working with them to get them permanently housed,’ Valle said.
The city was ordered by the local Superior Court to clear out the downtown encampment because it is considered a ‘public nuisance.’
But Arizona’s American Civil Liberties Union argued in a federal lawsuit the city is violating the constitutional rights of unhoused people by slowly clearing the area.
The dilemma faced by Phoenix is an example of the balance cities across the United States must strike when trying to satisfy the demands of residents and business owners while respecting the rights of homeless people.
Attorneys for the business owners in Phoenix say the city has allowed homeless people to set up permanent tent encampments on public sidewalks and decreased enforcement of loitering, drunken and disorderly conduct and drug use.
A man sweeps the sidewalk as tents and crude lean-tos crowd the sidewalks where many homeless people live along the streets
The city is trying to manage a homelessness crisis that has converted its downtown into a tent city housing
An aerial view of people gathered near a homeless encampment in the afternoon heat in Phoenix, Arizona
As many as 2,000 people called The Zone home during the pandemic. That number is now around 900
Every 2-3 weeks another block of the encampment is set to be cleared
The block being cleared last month only became a part of The Zone in 2023. Numbers of residents in the area have continued to swell since the Covid-19 pandemic
Brad Lally and his service dog, Rocky, in the process of being relocated away from The Zone
At least one city official admitted they do not know what to do with most of The Zone residents
Pictures from the scene in May showed tents and garbage strewn across city streets
A man walks by The Zone. During the summer months, temperatures soar well past 110F
Those forced to move on will not be permitted to return to the area once their block is cleared
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2019 that homeless people cannot be criminalized for sleeping outside if no alternatives exist.
But a Maricopa County Superior Court judge overseeing the case filed by business owners and residents who say the encampment is a public nuisance ordered Phoenix in March to make a plan to clear the tent city quickly.
By May 10, the city started the first round of the plan, cleaning one block of the encampment. The ACLU said city employees seized and destroyed the property of homeless individuals and refused to let them return to the area after it was cleaned.
‘The city should be held accountable for its conduct before any future cleanings can take place,’ Jared Keenan, legal director for the ACLU of Arizona, said in a statement.
The city has said it ‘vehemently disagrees’ with the ACLU’s assessment.
Amid the back and forth in court, Phoenix area advocates have scrambled for more shelter space for homeless people as the summer heat ramps up.
More than a third of the 425 people who died from heat-associated causes in Maricopa County last year were homeless.
Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs, a former social worker, has been seeking new solutions to Arizona´s housing crisis.
She successfully pushed for $150 million to be included in Arizona’s Housing Trust Fund in the state’s recently approved budget to shore up rent and utility assistance programs, eviction prevention, and build new shelters and affordable housing.
Another $60 million was included in the state budget for a new homeless shelter and services fund to be overseen by the Arizona Department of Housing.