PHOENIX — A judge has ruled that the City of Phoenix must address the "public nuisance" that a downtown homeless encampment has created for local property owners.
In a lawsuit filed last year, downtown residents and business owners accused the city of failing to enforce laws and allowing unsheltered individuals to live in an encampment known as "The Zone."
The plaintiffs said a rise in criminal activity and waste buildup prompted them to take legal action against Phoenix.
The city rebutted by arguing that citizens can't instruct them on how to enforce their own policies.
Judge Scott Blaney ruled Monday that the lawsuit's plaintiffs had shown that Phoenix is allowing the encampment to become a nuisance.
"The evidence also strongly suggests that the City created and maintains the dire situation that currently exists in the Zone through its failure, and in some cases refusal, to enforce criminal and quality of life laws in the Zone," the judge wrote in the ruling.
Blaney concluded that state law does not give the city discretion on whether to abate a public nuisance.
Therefore, the judge has ordered the city to clear public property in "The Zone" of any tents or makeshift structures.
"The City of Phoenix is prohibited from continuing to maintain a public nuisance on the public property in the Zone," the ruling states.
More than a dozen business and property owners are part of the lawsuit, which was filed in August 2022 to prompt the city to do more to address conditions in the encampment.
"In the short term, I really home this means it’s going to get cleaned up," said Karl Freund, one of the plaintiffs. "In the long-term, I really genuinely want to see these people getting help. What does that look like? We don’t know yet."
Freund leases space near 10th Avenue and Madison, in the heart of the encampment. He said he opted not to move his business into the building due to safety concerns and has struggled to sublet the space out.
"Crime is being committed in the open air,' Freund explained. "Meth being smoked, fentanyl being smoked, drug deals, prostitution. Physical assaults. Property crime. Everything you can think of would happen down there."
In a statement, a city spokesperson said staff is currently reviewing the court's ruling and will continue addressing the needs of downtown residents.
"We continue work with local and regional partners to address the complex issues surrounding those experiencing homelessness and to connect people in need with safe, indoor spaces and resources to help end their homelessness," the spokesperson said.
Judge Blaney said the city must be prepared to demonstrate its compliance with his order by July 10.
The judge's ruling can be read below: