Phoenix wants judge to dismiss homeless encampment lawsuit

The city of Phoenix has taken its first step in a lawsuit that tries to force it to tackle a burgeoning homeless encampment known as the Zone: dismissing claims made in the case and arguing that it should be rejected.

In August, a group of area landowners sued the city over the encampment, which by some estimates houses 1,500 people each night. Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued the city had let the area become “unsanitary and unsafe” and “washed its hands” of the crisis.

In the lawsuit, which is pending in Maricopa County Superior Court, attorneys have asked a judge to intervene and declare the area a “public nuisance” under Arizona law and force the city clean up or move the camp.

In its response filed Sept. 16, the city asked Superior Court Judge Alison Bachus to dismiss the lawsuit. City attorneys said the lawsuit’s arguments were legally flawed and that discretionary enforcement measures, such as enforcing ordinances against public urination or camping, could not be imposed in this way by a judge.

“Plaintiffs are harmed by the presence of unprotected individuals near their residences or businesses,” the attorneys wrote in their motion. But, they continued, the lawsuit’s demands for the city to intervene fell flat.

“The city has discretion over how it enforces its policies and what policies to adopt,” the attorneys argued. “The city has no constitutional obligation to protect plaintiffs’ property.”

City spokesman Dan Wilson said Phoenix New Times in a statement that the city’s motion was a matter of procedure. “This does not take away from the City’s commitment to working on solutions with those involved in this complaint. The City hopes that the parties can reach a resolution that will be acceptable to stakeholders, including the Complainants and the community we serve,” Wilson said.

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Some estimates put the population of the area at around 1,500 people.

Matt Hennie

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The area is just south of the Arizona State Capitol and stretches between 9th and 13th Avenues around Jefferson Street. Several large social service organizations – including André House and Central Arizona Shelter Services – are located there. For decades, many homeless people have lived in the neighborhood.

The camp has grown in recent years. A 2019 ruling from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that people cannot receive tickets for camping if there are no shelter beds available to them. This prompted Phoenix and other cities in the western United States to end enforcement of public camping bans.

Since 2019, the number of people camping long-term in the Zone has increased significantly. On these blocks, even in the deadly summer heat, tents line the streets and there is little shade. activists have warned of a growing humanitarian crisis, and it was only last year that the town provided a source of clean water.

Fifteen people who own residences or businesses in the area — some of whom live in the neighborhood — are plaintiffs in the area lawsuit. The original complaint detailed ongoing issues facing the neighborhood: public urination and defecation, street litter and property damage. The city, they claimed, used the 2019 court ruling that limited the camping app to completely ignore the issue.

In its motion filed last week, the city argued that the lawsuit incorrectly argued that landowners in the area suffered from constitutional violations and sought remedies beyond the court, including code enforcement and suggesting expansion of shelters.

The owners’ lawyers are not discouraged.

“The city’s arguments to dismiss the case come as no surprise,” said Ilan Wurman, an attorney and associate law professor at Arizona State University who is working on the case. “They lack merit, and we look forward to addressing them as soon as possible.”

At a September 21 hearing, Bachus moved the case forward and scheduled an evidence hearing for October 27.

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