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The Zone: Why Phoenix’s biggest homeless camp is growing

Virus Outbreak Arizona
Posted at 4:56 AM, Mar 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-02 23:28:45-05

PHOENIX — A large homeless encampment near downtown Phoenix, known as the Zone, has grown to as many as 900 people in recent weeks.

The Zone encompasses several blocks surrounding Phoenix’s Human Services Campus, which contains a soup kitchen, shelter, and other programs for people experiencing homelessness.

The campsites line the sidewalks in the area bordered by 9th Avenue, Jackson Street, 13th Avenue, and Jefferson Street in Phoenix. It’s just a few blocks away from the Arizona State Capitol complex.

“None of us winds up out here for this same reason,” said Faith Kearns from the Fund for Empowerment Houseless Leadership Project.

Official results from Maricopa County’s Point-in-Time Homeless Count have not yet been released. However, social services agencies say the PIT count in the Zone was approximately 750 people in late January. Even that number is growing.

“Our count just this last Wednesday morning at 5 a.m. was 900 unsheltered people,” said Amy Schwabenlender, the executive director of the Human Services Campus. That means more people are living outside her gate on the sidewalk than inside where all 700 shelter beds are full.

With the growing number of unsheltered people in the Zone comes growing sanitation, health, and safety issues. The city of Phoenix has used controversial methods to clean and control the Zone.

ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius goes into the Zone to ask people who are homeless about their claims that Phoenix is violating their constitutional rights. Watch the full story tonight on ABC15 at 6.

Why are more people living on the streets?

The Valley is experiencing a housing shortage – especially affordable housing.

As a result, even very vulnerable people are unsheltered, including people who are elderly or have disabilities.

“We're not all druggies; we're not all criminals,” said Kearns. She lived on the streets for years even though she has multiple sclerosis.

Kearns now has housing, but she knows how hard it can be to break out of the Zone.

“It takes two years to get into housing, some longer,” Kearns said.

Got a news tip? Email ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius at and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.