Lawsuit accuses Phoenix of letting large homeless encampment get out of hand

Aug 22, 2022, 2:00 PM | Updated: Apr 27, 2023, 11:29 am

(Photos from lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court)...

(Photos from lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court)

(Photos from lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court)

PHOENIX – A group of Phoenix residents and business owners are hoping their lawsuit will force the city take action to curb a large homeless encampment they say is ruining their neighborhood.

“This is a humanitarian crisis, not just for the homeowners there, but for the unsheltered people, so something must be done,” Ilan Wurman, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Monday.

The Aug. 10 lawsuit argues that city policies created a public nuisance by concentrating a growing homeless population in an area known as “the Zone” and failing to take steps needed to maintain it.

“We’re not seeking for damages,” said Wurman, who is teaming with the firm of Tully Bailey on the case.

“We’re just trying to force the city’s hands so it actually does something about this crisis.”

The Zone, which is centered around the blocks south of Jefferson Street between Ninth and 13th avenues, is home to several facilities that provide services and shelter to people experiencing homelessness, including the Human Services Campus and Central Arizona Shelter Services.

Wurman says there are things city officials can do, including the creation and maintenance of structured campgrounds, to improve the area without cutting people off from access to those services.

“There are solutions that the city can take tomorrow … that would not create a public nuisance and that would be relatively inexpensive — for example, to create structured campgrounds on city lots where facilities are provided, a police presence is provided, the tents are spaced out and kept clean and orderly.”

The homeless population in Phoenix is far larger than the number of shelter beds available. As a result, the city is subject to a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that says camping on public property can’t be criminalized unless there are enough shelter beds available for anybody who wants one.

Wurman, an associate professor at Arizona State University’s law school, isn’t challenging the ruling, but he says the city has been using it “as an excuse to completely abdicate responsibility over the homelessness crisis.”

“Nothing in the 9th Circuit decision says just because you can’t send unsheltered persons to jail that you have to let them build tents on public sidewalks or on streets, that you stop enforcing laws against drug use, that you stop enforcing laws against public urination and public defecation,” he said.

When asked for a response to the lawsuit, the city released the following statement:

While we can’t speak on the specifics of pending litigation, the city of Phoenix is committed to addressing the needs of all residents and property owners as we work with local and regional partners to address the complex issues surrounding those experiencing homelessness. The city developed Strategies to Address Homelessness and in the last fiscal year dedicated nearly $50 million dollars on solutions including shelters, increased affordable housing and mental health services. You can read more specific information in the Phx Newsroom. The Phoenix City Council also recently approved $70.5 million in affordable housing and homelessness programs.

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Lawsuit accuses Phoenix of letting large homeless encampment get out of hand