Arizona senators recognize state’s homelessness problems, at odds on how to address issue
Jun 15, 2023, 5:39 PM | Updated: 5:39 pm
PHOENIX — Arizona Republican Sen. John Kavanagh and Democratic Sen. Catherine Miranda sat down with KTAR News during a roundtable on Valley homelessness Thursday.
The Senators spoke with KTAR’s Jayme West and ABC15’s Javier Soto about the rise in homelessness, the problems and possible solutions.
While both senators recognized the state’s homelessness problem, their approach to addressing the issue was different.
Kavanagh introduced two bills to address homelessness – the first would’ve made it illegal statewide for people to erect tents or similar structures in roadways and right of ways. The second bill would require any municipality or government entity that permits an encampment in their streets or on their property to enforce basic hygiene laws, he said in the panel.
“My goal was basically to deter municipalities from allowing these things to develop because of the extra step they would have to take. I was hoping they would choose more reasonable approach like getting hotel space or more structured supervised space,” he said.
“But knowing that a lot of them won’t… wouldn’t do that, I at least wanted to stop people from wallowing in their own feces which is exactly what’s happening in the Zone.”
The first legislation to address homelessness was this year, Kavanagh said.
“It really came to a head this year with a lawsuit with the exposure to the public of the horrible burden it’s placing on the businesses and even a couple of residents in that area,” he said. “The environmental havoc and then that caused more news coverage where we had a burned body in a dumpster a fetus in the street. It’s just horrible and it’s got to be eradicated quickly.”
Kavanagh went on to say he doesn’t think Phoenix is doing enough to get rid of the problem and they are hanging their hat on the federal lawsuit as an excuse.
Phoenix was ordered to clear out the downtown encampment because it is considered a “public nuisance.” However, the Arizona Civil Liberties Union argued in the lawsuit that the city is violating the constitutional rights of unhoused people by slowly clearing “The Zone” area.
The Republican senator also responded to claims of his bills being characterized as “anti-homeless.”
“I passed a bill that said if a government entity has a homeless encampment on their publicly owned streets or private they owned publicly and they’re going to allow it there. You have to give these people toilets, a portable shower you have to have sanitation,” he said.
“So if that’s anti-homeless then we live in a topsy-turvy world. They’re the anti-homeless people by letting people live in squalor.”
Sen. Miranda said the rise in homelessness in the state and around the capitol was the reason she decided to run her campaign again.
“I cannot ignore this problem anymore. It’s not perception. It’s reality. We are a couple of blocks away from the problem we’re the decision-makers we have the power to get things done but it is a complex issue,” she said.
Lack of affordable housing, drug addiction and mental health issues are among the reasons people are without a home.
“There’s many many reasons why people are homeless. The top ones are housing of course. The drug addiction, the alcohol addiction, we need housing for that population that’s not addicted. We need treatment for people that are addicted. Those are two huge problems right there and everyone’s trying to find one silver bullet to this crisis and we can’t do that anymore,” she said.
Miranda introduced a bill to the Senate to address affordable housing. She said she wanted to create a seamless system with no gaps to address homelessness and addiction.
“I had in mind we’re going to need a billion dollars,” she said.
The Democratic senator said the bill went down to $155 million and she worked well with Kavanagh to get the bill moving.
“He asked me to take out all the new programs that were in the bill and only keep the existing ones so I did that. I was able to get it heard in appropriations. It passed.”
The bill was moved through but eventually stalled in the House, she said.
“It was a part of the solution answer and we ended up with $60 million. $20 million for emergency right now what’s going on in “The Zone” and other cities,” Miranda said.
She went on to say there needs to be a solid foundation for compassion when addressing the state homelessness problems.
“If we care about this issue if we have compassion for it that’s our solid foundation to get started because if you don’t have compassion from the beginning. you don’t care,” she said.
So I’m trying to find compassionate consistent people that will work with me and not tell me ‘Oh Catherine they just need to get up and go get a job. Oh let’s just put ’em in jail there’s crime going on’ of course there’s crime going on.”
To listen to the full roundtable, click here.