The Goldwater Institute Demands Phoenix Officials Enforce Law in Homeless Encampment ‘The Zone’

The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute (GI) filed an amicus brief in the State Superior Court urging an injunction blocking the City of Phoenix from any activity that would maintain a large homeless encampment known locally as ‘The Zone.’

“City leaders have been shunting homeless people into The Zone, and police have reportedly been ordered to take no action to protect the innocent property and business owners located in the area,” said the GI in a statement shared with The Arizona Sun Times. “Hardworking Phoenicians should be able to rely on the public services their tax dollars pay for—and their elected officials owe them a duty to enforce the laws.”

Located a few blocks from the Arizona State Capitol, the Zone sits between Jefferson Street and the railroad south of Jackson Street, and it is now one of the largest camps in the nation.

Fox 10 News reported that the number of people living in the area crossed 1,000 this year, and this large population has increased crime in the area. Since 2019, Phoenix police have responded to 801 incidents at The Zone, with 185 occurring in 2022 as of August. The most-reported crime in the area is theft, while aggravated assault, drug offenses, robbery, and rape also occur. Six murders have also been investigated in the encampment. Joseph and Deborah Faillace, owners of local sandwich shop Old Station, which sits on the outskirts of The Zone, say they have to pay for cleaning damages caused by the homeless population. The couple recalled reaching out to the Phoenix mayor’s office asking for help in this situation, to no avail.

On top of the crime, the GI alleged that The Zone presents an environmental issue. Under ARS § 49-263, it is illegal to “discharge” a pollutant without a permit or fail to report an unlawful discharge. Furthermore, this rule does not just apply to private citizens but to “a political subdivision of this state” as well. Arizona law defines pollutants as liquids, contaminants, sewage, or biological materials, and defines discharging as directly or indirectly adding a pollutant into the state’s waters. Public urination and defecation are commonplace in the encampment, and monsoon season runoffs can carry these biological hazards into Arizona’s water. Although the city has added a water station and 10 outdoor toilets to the area, the GI argued that this is not enough for a homeless population of this magnitude. The GI further argued that inaction on the part of the city had created a public nuisance in the area. It urged the court to issue an injunction blocking the city from maintaining The Zone or restricting police services.

“It’s not compassion to let people live on the streets, in an atmosphere riddled with unpoliced gang violence. But it’s even more outrageous for the city to withhold police protection from the innocent property and business owners who happen to be located in The Zone,” according to the GI.

As reported by The Sun Times, a group of citizens filed a lawsuit against the city in August. Phoenix police were allegedly told not to enforce anti-homeless camping laws because of an Idaho Ninth Circuit Court opinion. The opinion stated that cities must allow homeless people to camp on public lands if shelters are full. Yet, the citizens argue that the statement said nothing about not enforcing criminal laws and quality-of-life ordinances designed to “preserve community health, safety, and order.” Their goal, they say, is not to have the homeless population arrested but for the city to create a safe environment for everyone.

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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Homeless Encampment” by Goldwater Institute.


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