Cleaning up ‘The Zone’: Downtown Phoenix tents gone but homelessness persists

PHOENIX, ARIZONA: The transformation of “The Zone” in Phoenix from its previous state over the summer is unmistakable. Yet despite the lack of tents, the persistent return of homeless people to the area poses an ongoing challenge for the city.

The downtown cleanup follows a lawsuit against the city, Brown v. City of Phoenix, in which neighboring businesses and residents claimed the camp was a public nuisance.

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Although the cleanup process began in May, on September 20, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled that Phoenix must empty the area of ​​residents by November 4.

What is “The Zone” in Phoenix?

Once a bustling site occupied by tents and homeless people, the Phoenix area has undergone significant cleanup by the city, but the homeless population persists, according to

In the lawsuit, the encampment called The Zone is defined as roughly occupying the downtown blocks between Seventh and 15th Avenues and between Van Buren and Grant Streets. The urban encampment housed a fluctuating group of people, sometimes reaching 1,000 inhabitants.

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When did the cleanup of “The Zone” begin?

It’s been two weeks since the City of Phoenix completed the final cleanup of The Zone. The landscape has changed significantly, in stark contrast to its previous appearance during the summer months.

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Despite Phoenix officials’ previous plans to close the camp by April 2024, the court’s decision accelerated the process, requiring the immediate removal of about 500 people from the Zone.

The move could set a precedent for other cities facing similar problems with homeless camps, which could lead to new lawsuits against governments facing homeless crises.

Where were the homeless people from “The Zone” sent?

Despite efforts to combat homelessness, the removal of tents has not meant an end to the problem. People who had been moved from the Zone to shelters gradually returned to the streets.

Director of the City of Phoenix’s Office of Homeless Solutions Rachel Milne acknowledged that some shelter placements aren’t right for everyone, leading a few people to choose to return to homelessness .

She said: “We have definitely had people who have come back homeless and who felt that placement in a shelter was not the right placement for them. Right now we’re really focusing on the areas just outside of downtown, just outside of the social services campus area. »

Why do people keep coming back to The Zone?

The feeling of some homeless people, like Kimberly Brazil, is that they feel safer outside than inside shelters. For them, the streets provide a sense of security that shelters cannot match.

Brazil’s poignant story illustrates the struggles many face: a life previously dedicated to a 30-year career in the medical field was cut short due to health issues.

Today, amid the complexity of the struggle for social security and the lack of family support, the street seems a more viable option than the uncertainty of the shelter system.

Permanent challenges

Despite the city’s efforts to remedy the situation, the sight of people outside shelters, particularly near downtown areas, persists. The harsh reality is that many of these people face nights filled with difficulties, grappling with circumstances they never anticipated.

The fight for survival in the Zone continues, with dreams of better days remaining the only solace for those struggling with homelessness.

Looking forward

With plans to introduce nearly 800 new permanent shelter beds in the coming year, the city plans to begin opening them as early as February or March.

These efforts signify a commitment to tackling homelessness and providing safer, more supportive spaces for those in need.

As Phoenix grapples with the ongoing challenge of The Zone and homelessness, hope remains that these future initiatives will offer a more lasting solution, offering a glimmer of hope to a community facing adversity on the streets .

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