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Judge denies Phoenix's motion to dismiss lawsuit over conditions in 'The Zone' homeless encampment

Some of the judge's findings, based on arguments, include "dramatic increase in violent crime" and "measurable diminishment" of business traffic and property values.

PHOENIX — The battle over conditions in Phoenix's largest homeless encampment continues after a judge denied the city's motion to dismiss the case.

On Tuesday, Judge Scott Blaney issued a ruling that denied the City of Phoenix's motion to dismiss a lawsuit over conditions in "The Zone," the city's largest homeless encampment.

Residents in and around "The Zone" filed the lawsuit back in August 2022, claiming the city wasn't doing enough to keep conditions safe and clean in the neighborhood, which spans roughly from Jefferson to Jackson streets from 9th to 15th avenues in downtown Phoenix, just blocks away from the State Capitol.

Plaintiffs' attorneys are asking the judge to deem the conditions in "The Zone" a public nuisance that the city would have to abate.

The City of Phoenix filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit about a month after it was originally filed, claiming that residents "cannot use the courts" to direct Phoenix in making policy decisions when it comes to addressing homelessness.

"The City's creation, maintenance and/or failure to address the issues in the Zone have resulted in profoundly negative consequences for residents, property owners and business owners and their employees in the Zone," Judge Blaney wrote in the filing Tuesday.

Some of his findings, according to Tuesday's ruling, state that issues in "The Zone" resulted in an increase in violent crime; public drug use; a "proliferation" of human waste that creates an "ongoing biohazard," and a "measurable diminishment of business traffic and property values," among other findings.

The judge's ruling also stated that "the situation inside the Zone has gotten progressively worse, not better, since 2019 and has become dire since November of 2021."

Judge Blaney also detailed that the situation coincides with a 2019 federal ruling known as Martin v. Boise in which municipalities can't arrest someone for sleeping outside on public property if there is not enough available shelter space.  In Phoenix, homeless shelters are often at capacity.

The filing states there will be a final trial set on the matter.  The judge has yet to rule on an injunctive relief.

"Although novel, Plaintiffs are entitled to advance their constitutional argument," Judge Blaney wrote in his ruling.

A spokesperson for the City of Phoenix sent a statement over email following the judge's ruling:

While the legal process plays out, the City remains committed to addressing the needs of all residents and property owners as we work with local and regional partners to address the complex issues surrounding those experiencing homelessness.

At the end of December, the city started a deep cleaning pilot in "The Zone," focusing on cleaning one block at a time. During this process, workers help people move their tents and belongings before coming in to clean what's left behind.  

People can move back to the street once the cleanup is done, although the city said it's been able to place some people in shelters during this process.

So far, the city has done two of these cleanings, with another planned for later in January.

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