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Lawsuit aims to force Phoenix homeless camp abatement

12th Street and Madison
Posted at 5:54 PM, Aug 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-11 21:18:57-04

PHOENIX — Business and property owners near Arizona’s largest homeless encampment are suing the city of Phoenix hoping to get a judge to declare the area a public nuisance.

The area is known as the Zone, and it includes about 10 blocks surrounding the Human Services Campus at 12th Avenue and Madison Street.

Earlier this year, the ABC15 Investigators showed how the unsheltered population living on the streets in the Zone had ballooned to nearly 1,000 people.

“I've seen everything from smoking methamphetamines in the open, to people masturbating in my parking lot, to human feces, to urination, to open drug use,” said Karl Fruend, a lawsuit plaintiff who owns property at 10th Avenue and Madison Street.

“The worst that I've seen would probably be a gentleman verbally assaulting my elderly mother, one of my employees stepping in and getting hit by a pipe several times,” said business owner Freddy Brown who is also a plaintiff.

People experiencing homelessness also acknowledge the Zone is disgusting and depressing.

“I'm from Michigan, and I've never seen anything like this before,” said Rory Moore. “I wake up every day. I keep trying to move, keep trying something positive.”

“It would be better for it to be cleaned up,” said Ray Fields who told ABC15 he stays in a nearby shelter.

The plaintiffs told ABC15 that the goal of the lawsuit is to force city officials to enforce the law, relocate the people in the tents, and clean up the area.

“It doesn't matter that it's hard; it doesn't matter that it might cost money,” said Ilan Wurman, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “It doesn't matter that it might require the city of Phoenix to do things that they don't otherwise want to do. A nuisance is a nuisance, and the law says that it must be abated.”

A prior federal appeals court ruling involving an Idaho case said cities can't ban urban camping if their homeless shelters are full.

Phoenix's shelters are full.

Nearly two years ago, Phoenix City Council approved a list of strategies council members hoped would help better address the homelessness crisis in the city.

According to the City Manager’s Office, $50 million was spent on solutions including shelters, increased affordable housing, and mental health services in the last fiscal year.

During that time, the population living in encampments in the Zone increased.

Councilwoman Yassamin Ansari, reacting to the lawsuit, said the centralized services downtown for people experiencing homelessness contributed to the growth of the large encampments.

She has pushed for expanding locations for services in other parts of the Valley. She also urged the community to be patient for a little while longer.

"We have also spent more dollars than ever to fund neighborhood blight programs, new transitional housing projects, outreach specialists, heat relief supplies and so much more,” Ansari said in a written statement. “By next summer, my hope is that phoenix-funded efforts will result in a drastic reduction in the number of unsheltered individuals in the zone."

Sal DiCiccio weighed in on Twitter in support of the businesses and property owners.

Both Phoenix’s city manager and Mayor Kate Gallego declined on-camera interviews due to the pending litigation.

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