Phoenix faces dueling lawsuit over homelessness crisis as defenders scramble for more shelter

PHOENIX (AP) — Phoenix is ​​facing dueling lawsuits as it tries to deal with a homelessness crisis that has turned its downtown into a tent city housing hundreds as summer temperatures soar .

The city has been ordered by the local Superior Court to clean up the downtown encampment because it is considered a “public nuisance.” But the Arizona Civil Liberties Union argued in a federal lawsuit that the city violated the constitutional rights of homeless people by slowly clearing up the area known as “The Zone.”

The dilemma facing Phoenix is ​​an example of the balance municipalities across the United States must now strike when trying to meet the demands of residents and business owners while respecting the rights of homeless people. .

Seattle faced a similar situation in 2020 when a woman sued the city, alleging that a sweep of the homeless encampment where she lived would violate her rights.

In New Mexico, as the city of Albuquerque worked to ban roadside begging, the ACLU fought for that right.

A hearing was scheduled for Friday afternoon at the ACLU’s request that Phoenix be declared in defiance of an order by U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow that the city refrain from imposing travel bans. camping and sleeping for people who cannot find shelter. He also prohibited the city from seizing and destroying their property without giving them the opportunity to recover it later.

The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2019 that homeless people cannot be criminalized for sleeping outdoors if there is no alternative.

But a Maricopa County Superior Court judge overseeing the case filed by business owners and residents who say the encampment is a public nuisance ordered Phoenix in March to come up with a plan to quickly clean up the city. of tents.

On May 10, the city launched the first round of the plan, clearing a block of the encampment. But the ACLU said city workers seized and destroyed property from homeless people and refused to let them return to the area after it was cleared.

“The city should be held accountable for its conduct before future cleanups can take place,” Jared Keenan, chief legal officer for the ACLU of Arizona, said in a statement.

The city said it “strongly disagrees” with the ACLU’s assessment.

Amid back-and-forth court action, Phoenix-area defenders raced to secure more shelter space for the homeless at the start of the warm season.

A shelter in a former motel went live Friday, but with just 52 beds, it’s barely enough as Arizona’s largest county reports the first four heat-related deaths of the year.

More than a third of the 425 people who died of heat-related causes in Maricopa County last year were homeless.

Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs, a former social worker, is looking for new solutions to Arizona’s housing crisis.

She successfully lobbied for $150 million to be included in Arizona’s housing trust fund in the state’s recently approved budget to bolster rent and utility assistance programs. , preventing evictions and building new shelters and affordable housing.

An additional $60 million has been included in the state budget for a new homeless shelter and services fund that will be overseen by the Arizona Department of Housing.

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