Here’s an inside look at living in Phoenix’s The Zone homeless encampment

Oct 27, 2023, 4:35 AM | Updated: 6:11 am

PHOENIX – The scattered trash, needles and debris make for a harsh reality for the 400-plus people who call The Zone homeless encampment in downtown Phoenix home. A rapidly approaching deadline to leave the area isn’t helping.

Nette Reed, a social services navigator for the Human Services Campus, makes routine visits, as early as 4 a.m., to take the census count on how many unhoused individuals are on the street.

Reed and her colleagues conduct the count weekly while speaking to individuals about the possibility of temporary housing.

“I don’t even say anything about the SOS lots because my thing is … I want to see you get better, I want to see you do better, I don’t want to see you have to stay in a tent and feel like no one is there to support you, and that’s what I’m here for … if I can’t give you what you need, we’re going to find somebody who can…I promise you that,” Reed said.

The Zone is a multi-block homeless encampment in downtown Phoenix’s west side. At one point in May, it was home to 900 unhoused people. It has since decreased in size, with Human Services Campus estimates around 400 individuals that still live there as of mid-October.

The city of Phoenix agreed last week to its clean-up deadline on Nov. 4.

Phoenix City Council is in the works for a five-and-a-half-acre outdoor campground on 15th Avenue and Jefferson Street for residents who don’t want to go into temporary housing. Still, Reed would rather not see the same tents in a different location.

Maricopa Association of Governments Deputy Director Amy St. Peter told KTAR News 92.3 FM that cities see many people entering homelessness for the first time. From 2019 to 2023, homelessness had a 54% increase in the Maricopa County region, according to MAG.

“We have to have more housing available, that can be market-rate housing, apartment subsidized housing, we just need more housing,” St. Peter said.

For unhoused individuals who live in The Zone, it is constant survival. Nobody can trust anybody. Belongings are stolen frequently. Violence is an everyday act. Even giving out first and last names is risky, with some fearing getting in trouble with the law.

“Honestly, it’s a little mentally challenging. It’s emotionally frustrating sometimes,” an unhoused individual who went by two names, “Jessica” and “Star,” said.

“We don’t know where we’re going to go, we don’t know what opportunities they have for us, we don’t know what options they have for us, we know they bought a couple of hotels, but like I said before, there’s people in those hotels already…as were waiting for them to move out of there so that more people can move in there, the turnaround rate is not as fast as we thought it would be.”

As of Sept. 29, the Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS), located directly inside The Zone on 12th Avenue, is overfilled with its 600-bed capacity, with 634 beds being used.

“Where are we supposed to go? Are we supposed to migrate to another part of Phoenix? Are there more shelters with more availability? Like, what do they plan on doing? And I don’t have anyone to ask these questions to…all I can do is stay hopeful and put my faith in God,” Jessica said.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

Former President Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden, shown during an Oct. 22, 2020, debate...

Jim Sharpe

The 2 (really) big things causing Joe Biden to trail Donald Trump in Arizona

Immigration and economy woes might be too much for Joe Biden to overcome in the 2024 election in Arizona, host Jim Sharpe writes.

37 minutes ago

Executive order from Gov. Katie Hobbs expands reproductive rights...

Executive order from Gov. Katie Hobbs expands contraceptive access in Arizona

Gov. Katie Hobbs issued an executive order protecting reproductive freedoms through increased access to contraception, officials said.

2 hours ago

The Wildcat Fire burning north of the Valley continues to grow as dry, windy conditions make it dif...

Wildcat Fire north of Valley continues to grow due to dry, windy conditions

The Wildcat Fire burning north of the Valley continues to grow as dry, windy conditions make it difficult to suppress the blaze.

3 hours ago

An 11-year-old girl was hospitalized after almost drowning in Phoenix on May 19, 2024. (Pexels Phot...

11-year-old girl hospitalized after nearly drowning when hair caught in Phoenix pool

An 11-year-old girl was hospitalized after her hair got caught in an underwater pool fixture in Phoenix, authorities said Monday.

4 hours ago

Eleven defendants met on Dec. 14, 2020, to sign a certificate falsely claiming they were “duly el...

Read the unredacted indictment in Arizona Republican fake elector investigation

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes on Monday released the unredacted indictment in the case where 18 high-profile suspects are accused of taking part in a Republican fake elector scheme in the state.

5 hours ago

Follow @KTAR923...

Fatal shooting in north Tempe under investigation; Man dies at the scene

An investigation is underway after a man was fatally shot overnight near an intersection in north Tempe, authorities said.

6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.



Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.


DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

Here’s an inside look at living in Phoenix’s The Zone homeless encampment