1 block down: Phoenix starts cleanup of Zone homeless encampment

May 10, 2023, 11:15 AM | Updated: 1:16 pm

PHOENIX – Under gray skies Wednesday morning, the city of Phoenix and partner agencies started the laborious process of cleaning up the sprawling downtown-area homeless encampment known as the Zone.

The city’s plan is to move people out one block at a time with offers of shelter, clean up whatever is left behind and prevent anyone from settling back into the space. The process started around 7 a.m. on the stretch of Ninth Avenue between Washington and Jefferson streets.

Scott Hall, deputy director of the Phoenix Office of Homeless Solutions, called the day’s operation a success. He estimated about 40 people had been living on the block.

“With those 40 individuals, we’ve had 33 positive outcomes so far and we’re still accumulating more as we continue to work with people,” he said. “So, it’s been a real successful endeavor.”

The reaction of people who had to relocate ranged from optimism over the attention to anger over having to leave what they consider a secure place. Some just picked up their belongings and moved to another block, while others accepted help.

“We’ve had the ability to offer everybody indoor space — shelter beds, some hotels we’ve been operating as shelters, reunification with families, treatment,” Hall told reporters while the cleanup was underway.

There are a range of reasons why some individuals reject assistance, Hall said.

“Sometimes it’s fear of things that happened in the past. Sometimes it’s mental illness or addiction issues. Sometimes it’s partner issues with their loved one,” he said.

“It’s a whole array of things, and we’ll continue to work with them and try to create different opportunities for them.”

“The Zone” refers to the area surrounding 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.

In March, 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.

Hall said the operation launched Wednesday is a collaboration with multiple partner agencies in the downtown area and throughout the Valley.

“The city is putting a lot of resources toward creating opportunities for people to get off the streets,” he said.

Piles of debris were strewn along the sides of the road where people had been living in tents and other makeshift spaces. Some of the vacated areas looked as if the roof and walls were removed from a messy living room, complete with furniture and carpeting.

“We’ll post signs and tell people that they can’t be back in this area anymore,” Hall said.

The city has programs to store property that people want to keep but can’t readily transport.

“They agree that whatever they’ve left there, they want thrown away,” he said.

An April 4 street count found 674 people living in the Zone, with 221 tents set up over about 14 blocks. There is no estimated time for when the area will be fully cleared, but it could take months.

Hall said the clean-up operation includes navigators and peer support specialists who previously were in the same situation as the people they now are helping.

“They’ve been people who’ve been on the streets themselves, who’ve gone through substance abuse issues, who’ve gone through incarceration, and now they’re doing this great work of working with people and trying to help them get on the same path that they have, and I’m very appreciative for people who’ve chosen that kind of work,” he said.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Taylor Kinnerup and Colton Krolak contributed to this report.

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1 block down: Phoenix starts cleanup of Zone homeless encampment