Attorneys representing a group of Phoenix business owners argued in court against the City of Phoenix (COP) Thursday regarding one of the largest homeless camps in the nation, “The Zone.” The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute (GI) said residential testimony revealed how dire the situation has become.
“Thursday’s hearing was on the city’s effort to throw out this case, brought by neighborhood property owners against the city for maintaining a gigantic homeless encampment, which is destroying neighborhood businesses and properties. The testimony revealed startling examples of the pollution, crime indecency, and violence that goes on in The Zone,” said GI Vice President of Legal Affairs Timothy Sandefur in a statement emailed to The Arizona Sun Times.
Thursday’s hearing was to decide if this case would continue at all. In August, resident and business owners in the affected area filed a lawsuit against the COP, alleging it was responsible for letting the area become overrun by homeless people. However, in September, the city filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the citizens could not compel it in court to fix the problem.
Depending on the decision from Judge Melissa Julian, which has yet to come out as of this writing, she could either dismiss the case here, or the court could issue an injunction against the city and require it to stop maintaining the encampment.
Sandefur attended the hearing, and said another way for Arizonans to make a change in this situation could be with their vote.
“Perhaps the most remarkable incident to occur during Thursday’s hearing happened at the beginning, when city lawyers argued that the case should be thrown out based on the theory lawyers call “political question doctrine.” That’s a rule that says courts shouldn’t decide questions that are really only disputes over policy choices—instead, as Phoenix’s lawyers argued, people should have “recourse to the ballot box,” wrote Sandefur. “In other words, the city’s lawyers were arguing that if you don’t like The Zone, you should vote out the Mayor and City Council.”
At the Thursday hearing, Sandefur recalled plaintiffs saying that the homeless population in the area presents an issue. Freddy Brown, president of PBF Manufacturing on Jefferson Street, said he had been forced to seal his facility windows to keep urine out.
As for the COP’s response, the city did not argue that there is not a problem in The Zone but said it is making attempts to alleviate the crisis. 12 News reported that the city dedicated nearly $100 million in COVID-19 relief money it received to address the homeless situation, but it has thus far only used roughly 10 percent of that fund.
Aron Arnson, an attorney for the city, said the COP is trying to remedy the situation but needs time. Creating a new housing facility for the homeless population, which involves first identifying a suitable space and then dealing with permits and staffing, can take months.
“They’re [the city] doing something,” said Arnson. “It’s something the plaintiffs don’t like that it’s not happening quickly enough. That doesn’t mean that nothing is happening and the city isn’t taking efforts to abate what is no doubt a terrible condition downtown.”
– – –