ACLU claims Phoenix violated court order while cleaning up Zone homeless encampment

May 17, 2023, 9:48 AM | Updated: 11:13 am

PHOENIX – The American Civil Liberties Union is accusing the city of Phoenix of violating a court order while cleaning up part of the Zone homeless encampment last week.

“What happened on May 10 is unacceptable,” Jared Keenan, legal director for the ACLU of Arizona, said in a press release Tuesday.

“Not only did the city of Phoenix violate an active court order, but they failed to follow their own protocols to treat unsheltered individuals with dignity and respect during a cleaning.”

The city released a statement responding to the allegations, saying it “vehemently disagrees with the plaintiff’s description” of the cleanup operation.

“The city took a human-focused and dignified approach to the effort and we are disappointed that the ACLU and its plaintiffs did not address their concerns with the city prior to filing a motion with the court,” the statement says, in part. “Their assertions are not accurate.”

Phoenix officials find themselves stuck between two court cases when it comes to the homeless encampment in the area around the Human Services Campus, a collaboration of partner organizations that provide services to unsheltered individuals at 12th Avenue and Madison Street.

In response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU last year, a federal judge issued an order in December prohibiting the city from enforcing sleeping and camping bans on anyone in the Zone who can’t obtain a shelter bed. The city was also told it couldn’t destroy property seized during cleanup efforts without first holding it in a secure location for 30 days.

The injunction does not prohibit enhanced cleanup operations in the Zone as long as the city follows the terms of the order.

In March, the Maricopa County Superior Court 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.

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, which could take several months, started May 10 on the stretch of Ninth Avenue between Washington and Jefferson streets.

“City staff and partners engaged 60 people in the area and each one of them cooperated with the request to move their belongings. Of those engaged, 47 people were transported to indoor shelters or treatment programs, a nearly 80% success rate in placing people into an indoor space,” the city said.

“No individual’s property was destroyed without their permission and there were no issues with unattended property. Any items that were removed from the block were authorized to be removed by the individuals. … The city and our partners also stored belongings for five individuals who requested it and we are in communication with those individuals to access their property.”

The ACLU, however, is claiming that the city destroyed property in violation of the federal court order. The civil rights advocacy group is asking the federal judge to hold a hearing before the city moves forward with its next block of cleanup, which is scheduled for May 24.

“The city should be held accountable for its conduct before any future cleanings can take place,” said Keenan, the group’s Arizona legal director.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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ACLU claims Phoenix violated court order while cleaning up Zone homeless encampment