It’s called “The Zone”—a fixed area in downtown Phoenix where 1,000 homeless people camp. This has led to a surge in violent crimes such as shootings, stabbings and rapes, and has resulted in the destruction of dozens of businesses in the region. But despite the government’s obligations to the rights of all its citizens, the city’s refusal to act has actually made things worse.
Now, the Goldwater Institute is asking officials to enforce the law.
Officials in Phoenix have been diverting the city’s homeless population into “quarantine zones” for months. City leaders have reportedly instructed police not to take any action, resulting in what is now one of the largest homeless camps in the country.
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A group of Phoenix citizens has now filed a lawsuit, arguing that the city ignored its responsibilities and was actually destroying their property and creating a nuisance downtown. The last point is based on a 1985 Arizona Supreme Court decision in which a judge held that inviting homeless people into an area could constitute an unlawful nuisance. But it’s not just crime – it’s also pollution. People in the area reported urinating and defecation on streets, sidewalks, buildings, and vacant property. But Arizona law prohibits the city from “maintaining” any “activity” that could pollute public waterways — and the area is just steps from the Salt River. As our friends in court briefing pointed out, by maintaining the DC, the city violated state environmental laws.
This is a nasty textbook example. In a 1938 case, the state Supreme Court held Phoenix responsible for defects in its property’s sewage treatment facility, which frequently malfunctioned and caused pollution. “While it is true that the sewer system is an important necessity for the maintenance of health in any large city,” the court said, “even though this necessity does not authorize the municipality to irresponsibly injure the person or property of others.” The same is true here: While homelessness is an issue in most cities, Phoenix cannot sustain camps for homeless people — many of them violent criminals — who create dangerous biohazards in the city center.
That’s why our brief urges courts to issue injunctions that prevent the city from maintaining areas in Phoenix or restrict police service to hard-working business owners affected by the camp.
Businesses harmed by the area include the Arizona Rock Products Association (ARPA), the state’s oldest trade organization dedicated to the mining and rock industries, with its headquarters in the area. Since The Zone was established in the city, ARPA employees have been forced to extinguish their property and clean up needles, used condoms and human waste left by The Zone residents. Additionally, residents of The Zone have broken into ARPA properties, including breaking into cars, and on one occasion even entering the building and picking up food from the refrigerator. ARPA is one of many important contributors to the Arizona economy, all of whom should have their public officials enforce the law and protect their rights. However, ARPA is finding it increasingly difficult to do business in Arizona because of the trouble the city has created.
Having people live on the streets, in an atmosphere of gang violence without police, is not sympathy. But it’s all the more heinous that the city refuses police protection for innocent property and business owners who happen to be in the area. Industrious Phoenicians should be able to rely on public services paid for by their taxes—their elected officials were obliged to enforce the law.
You can read the letter here and learn more about the case here.
Timothy Sandfall He is the Vice President of Legal Affairs of the Goldwater Institute.