Phoenix mayor and council must clean up the city's homeless 'Zone' now

Workers remove debris from Madison Street (between 12th and 13th Avenues) on Dec. 16, 2022, during Phoenix's enhanced cleanup of the area.
Workers remove debris from Madison Street (between 12th and 13th Avenues) on Dec. 16, 2022, during Phoenix's enhanced cleanup of the area.
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When will it be “practical” for Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and council members to finally clean up the city’s homeless encampment?

It’s an important question, now that a Maricopa County judge has ordered Phoenix to remove the tents and keep the area known as “The Zone” free of drug paraphernalia, feces and trash.

The judge gave Phoenix a cop out by not requiring the cleanup to be carried out immediately and rather to be done “as soon as is practical.”

Presumably, that means between now and when a lawsuit filed by residents and business owners over these intolerable conditions goes to trial in July.

Which is not soon enough.

Even if they don’t immediately take down the tents, the mayor and council must ensure this encampment is immediately cleaned up.

And Phoenix Police must begin enforcing the law again – immediately.

Phoenix turned a blind eye to this disaster

The city has spent months hiding behind a federal court ruling to avoid patrolling or doing anything with the hundreds of residents camping in the area roughly bounded by Seventh and 15th avenues and from Van Buren to Grant streets.

Unsheltered people and their advocates had previously complained that Phoenix Police destroyed their property, one of the charges that’s now the subject of an ongoing Justice Department investigation.

Phoenix leaders ordered a cleanup last December but have left the homeless encampment alone since then.

The results have been disastrous for everyone – the homeless people who live amid their own feces, the victims of theft, assaults, stabbings and other crimes, and the property owners who find urinating and defecating in front of their homes and businesses intolerable.

Shame on Gallego and city leaders for letting this happen in the first place.

Leaders must answer for horrid conditions

It’s beyond comprehension to see how local leaders have so casually ignored the degradation of humanity while fighting each other politically or justifying their position with legalities and projects to come.

Yes, the city is setting aside roughly $140 million to deal with homelessness, which has grown by 23% in the last two years and ranks among the worst in the nation.

Yet a lot of that money is buried in bureaucracy and longer-term “solutions,” such as building 800 new shelter or transitional beds and 125 new affordable housing units by next year.

“We haven’t made a dent,” Phoenix Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari said about the crisis. Ansari expressed her frustration during a council meeting over failed proposals to help mobile home residents from becoming homeless.

Don't leave The Zone to fend for itself

Phoenix’s elected leaders have a lot to answer for over the conditions of The Zone.

They aren’t solely responsible for the problems of homelessness, which are complex and fed by every community in metro Phoenix. And indeed, policing the encampment cannot be the city’s only response.

But instead of tackling these problems with urgency, city leadership has remained immobilized between advocates who don’t want the unhoused to be policed at all and those who want them gone by any means.

It is cruel to let people in The Zone fend for themselves. Gallego and the City Council must understand that.

That’s why they must police the lawlessness and clean up the trash and feces now.

This is an opinion of The Arizona Republic's editorial board.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Phoenix must clean up its homeless 'Zone' - and do it now