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The city of Phoenix is working block by block to clear an infamous homeless encampment that is the target of a lawsuit from nearby business owners and residents.
On Wednesday, a crew of nonprofit and city workers cleared people, tents, and other belongings from another block of “The Zone,” Phoenix’s huge downtown homeless encampment that can sometimes number nearly 1,000 people.
The crew cleared 13th Avenue between Madison and Jefferson streets, just one section of the sprawling encampment where tents can line the sidewalk for five or six blocks at a time.
The newly cleared area is just around the corner from Old Station Sub shop, which is owned by Joe Faillace, one of the business and property owners suing the city over “The Zone.”
The 15 plaintiffs in the lawsuit say the homeless people who live in “The Zone” have perpetrated violence and property damage, harming the plaintiffs’ livelihoods and quality of life. The plaintiffs say they have found stray used needles from drug use and human feces on their property and have witnessed homeless people using drugs and engaging in sex acts in public.
The city has even transported homeless people to “The Zone” and refused to enforce the law there, the lawsuit claims.
The trial in the lawsuit was held earlier this month, but a final ruling has not yet been issued on how much time the city will officially have to clear “The Zone.”
“Will the city of Phoenix abate the public nuisance if the court does not mandate them to do so?” Judge Scott Blaney asked during the trial.
The city started clearing the encampment on May 10, and Wednesday’s cleanup marks the fifth block to be cleared.
Last week’s cleanup came amid a record-breaking heat wave in Phoenix, which had already been under an excessive heat warning for several weeks this month. Temperatures were already above 90 degrees when the cleanup crew began working, and the heat had climbed to well over 100 degrees by 11am, when the street had been cleared and a city sanitation truck came by. Photos from “The Zone” this week showed homeless residents battling the heat, pouring water on themselves and being handed water bottles from crew workers.
The scorching temperatures encouraged homeless residents, especially older residents, to seek shelter and take advantage of the air conditioning inside a nearby community center focused on the homeless.
City officials said the city plans to finish clearing “The Zone” over the next nine months, but the plaintiffs’ legal team asked the court to order Phoenix to clear it by the end of the summer.
“Let the city keep doing this good thing without the burden of further court action,” one city attorney said.
Phoenix also faced another lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which sued the city in December over the city’s cleanups in “The Zone,” saying that police cleanups of the encampments “criminalize homelessness.”