Permanent cleanup of Zone homeless encampment in Phoenix to start in 2 weeks

Apr 25, 2023, 10:03 AM | Updated: Apr 27, 2023, 11:27 am

Phoenix the zone homeless encampment...

(Google Street View)

(Google Street View)

PHOENIX – The block-by-block process of permanently moving hundreds of people out of the Phoenix homeless encampment known as the Zone will start in two weeks, the director of the city’s Office of Homeless Solutions said Monday.

“On May 10, we will have our first cleanup where people won’t be allowed to go back to that block after we have cleaned it,” Rachel Milne told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“We will come to that date with as many indoor places as we possibly can, but roughly there might be 40 to 50 people in a given block. So that’s really our goal every week.”

The city said there is no definitive timeline for completing the process.

Team members from the city and partner groups will distribute flyers in targeted areas starting two weeks in advance.

“And they’re all a part of not only informing folks that this is happening, but then on the day of cleanups they are out helping people pack up their belongings, helping them get to a safe place as we then offer alternative places for people to be,” Milne said.

The Zone is the tent-filled area around the Human Services Campus, a collaboration of partner organizations that provide services to people experiencing homelessness at 12th Avenue and Madison Street.

The city has been accused of ignoring its responsibility to maintain the area and enforce laws there. Last month, the judge in a lawsuit filed on behalf of area residents and business owners ordered the city to devise a plan to clean up the Zone and carry it out as soon as possible.

Much of Phoenix’s unsheltered population is concentrated in the Zone, and Milne said there isn’t enough current shelter space for everybody living there.

“If all 900 people that were in that area today said that they were ready to go someplace indoors, we would not have the capacity for that, which is really why we’re doing it a block at a time, so that we can coordinate to find out exactly what we have available,” she said.

About 800 new shelter beds are under development, Milne said. In the meantime, the city is looking into other possible solutions, including renting out hotels or developing safe outdoor spaces for people who “who might not be ready to go to an indoor place.”

“What we offer will be completely voluntary. We’re not forcing anyone to go anywhere. It’s really for people that want an alternative place to be,” Milne said.

“But certainly people could opt to … stay outside and to go someplace else.”

Milne knows what she wants in an outdoor alternative, but a location hasn’t yet been confirmed.

“In my mind, what it would have is shade, for sure, access to restrooms, access to hand washing, showers, 24/7 security, a code of conduct, on-site services, but also a little bit … more structure than what they have in the area around the campus now, but less structure than, say, an indoor congregate living facility.”

Another part of the plan that hasn’t been fully worked out is how to keep people from moving back onto the cleared blocks, which has been an issue in previous efforts.

“We have not landed on whether we would fence an area or put barriers up, but we will always lead with services,” she said. “So, we’ll always go out and engage and educate folks that might come back to the area who might not know that it’s not a place to camp anymore.

“We’ll definitely put up signs, but we’ll always lead with our education efforts.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Martha Maurer contributed to this report.

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Permanent cleanup of Zone homeless encampment in Phoenix to start in 2 weeks