Cleanup of Phoenix’s Zone homeless encampment nears completion as deadline looms

Oct 26, 2023, 12:00 PM

PHOENIX — The infamous downtown Phoenix homeless encampment known as The Zone is nearly gone after the city cleaned out a 13th block in the area Wednesday.

The city said it will clear The Zone’s final two blocks next week, nearly 6 months after starting enhanced cleanup operations and just ahead of a court-ordered deadline to complete the task.

City staff and homeless services partners have been clearing campers from the area surrounding the Human Services Campus at Madison Street and 12th Avenue one block at a time since May 10, with offers of shelter to everyone who’d been living there.

Once the people are out, the city cleans up whatever is left behind and prevents anyone from settling back into the space. Some people opt to remain on the streets and move elsewhere.

Sixty-eight of the 80 people engaged on Madison Street during the most recent action were placed in shelters, the city said.

Why is Zone homeless encampment cleanup taking so long?

Local residents and businesses sued the city earlier this year for ignoring its responsibility to maintain the area and enforce laws there. A judge initially ordered the cleanup in a March ruling without a hard deadline.

The process has taken months because the city doesn’t want to force people out of The Zone without open shelter beds to offer.

Urgency to complete the cleanup increased after a judge in the case imposed a Nov. 4 deadline last month and the city’s ensuing request for an extension was denied.

How has Phoenix increased shelter space before deadline?

Rachel Milne, director of Phoenix Office of Homeless Solutions, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Wednesday the city and its partners have worked “at lightning speed” to increase shelter space since the Sept. 20 ruling.

“Our intention is to make sure that we’re offering everyone the same thing that we offered in our previous five months,” she said. “We just were able to really pull a lot of strings and call in a lot of favors with partners to be able to do this.”

Milne said three new shelters in partnership with New Leaf, Central Arizona Shelter Services and Community Bridges either opened recently or will open this week, while capacity is also being expanded at an existing congregate shelter.

“Having as many options as possible, these congregate locations and these new hotel shelters, is really going to … be essential in meeting this deadline,” she said.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Balin Overstolz-McNair contributed to this report.

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Cleanup of Phoenix’s Zone homeless encampment nears completion as deadline looms