Breaking News
More () »

City of Phoenix sanitizes one block in 'The Zone' homeless encampment in deep cleaning trial

People camping on the block were able to move their belongings to a staging area during the cleaning. Anything they chose to leave behind was thrown away.

PHOENIX — As the sun came up Friday morning, people on one block of Phoenix's largest homeless encampment started to take their tents down.

"It took me no time because I had a little tent," said Christina Clemmons, who camps out at Madison Street between 12th and 13th avenues.  "A couple people helped me just drag my little tent across. I took all my stuff out for the most part."

She, along with others lining the block that morning, moved her tent to a staging area ahead of a planned "enhanced cleaning" by the City of Phoenix.

Late Thursday, a federal court judge cleared the way for the city to move forward with its new cleaning plan Friday morning.

Workers started helping people move their belongings to a nearby empty parking lot around 7 a.m. Anything people didn't want to take with them could be left for crews to throw out.

During the cleaning process, the city said it connected 33 people on the block with available shelter space. City staff said they estimate that made up more than half the roughly 50 people on the block Friday morning.

12News also witnessed people leaving the block with their belongings instead of waiting in the staging area.

After people cleared out, cleaning crews came in, cleaned up any trash and waste, and sprayed disinfectant on the ground.

There was one person who refused to move or leave his encampment, according to the city. That tent was taped off, and crews cleaned around it without moving any of the items, which is protocol under the city's new plan.

Shortly after noon, crews finished cleaning, and people could return to the street if they chose to do so.

Clean-up controversy

The city’s currently facing multiple lawsuits over how it's handled conditions in "The Zone."  In one case, property owners are suing the city, claiming it's not doing enough to keep conditions safe and clean in the downtown encampment.

The other lawsuit, filed by the ACLU, claims the city's cleaning plan could violate the rights of those living on the streets.

On Thursday, a federal judge in the ACLU's case gave the green light for the city to move forward with this cleaning trial, so long as crews didn’t destroy property without holding it for at least 30 days.

Under the city's "enhanced cleaning" trial plan, if a property is taped off during the cleaning, it will remain taped off for seven days unless someone returns.  

If no one claims the property after seven days, it will be moved to the Human Services Campus and secured for 30 more days, where people will be able to come and claim it.

The city’s deep cleanings in "The Zone" before this year are under investigation, in part, by the Department of Justice, over accusations they were trashing important items like IDs or birth certificates.

Those cleanings were halted in January 2022. The big differences in the trial cleaning 11 months later are the smaller work area and storage options where people can reclaim their belongings.

"We had ample notification," Clemmons shared.

Clemmons said she's been living on the streets for several years and remembers the deep cleanings from last year. Her feelings are mixed about the new approach.

"I think it’s a lie," she shared. "I think it’s just a crock to see if we can move. But I respect it because they used to do it every week, and it does get kind of cluttered - and look at all this trash."

Her plan is to move right back to her space near 12th and Madison, despite the city having available shelter space.  

"I’m moving my stuff back right as soon as they finish," she said. "Because I have a tent. When you have a tent, it’s a home."

City staff said they would debrief on the cleaning with the hope of continuing the pilot program.

Up to Speed

Catch up on the latest news and stories on the 12News YouTube channel. Subscribe today.

Before You Leave, Check This Out