Phoenix and the Growing Pains of Grappling with Homelessness

Photo Credit: Michael Chow and Emmanuel Lozano

Homelessness had never been a critical issue in Arizona as it grew its way into the destination it currently is until recently. A home price spike turned into a rental cost crisis, and as hard drug use rose across the country the result has been a mix of legitimately down-on-their-luck folks combined with those lost in the grips of addiction, many in tents in a certain area of downtown known as “The Zone”. This is not a problem that the area has needed to deal with previously, and as such this is new and largely uncharted territory.

This uncertainty is exemplified by recent court proceedings as local district courts are needing to produce opinions and deal with legal challenges for the first time, and as there is now a louder push for solutions from legislators and the state’s executive branch. This is no longer something that can be ignored.

Thankfully, there are plenty of examples to emulate and those to ignore. For instance, there is a wide chasm in the effectiveness of policies on the east coast versus the west coast. While often having relatively similar politics (specifically the northeast compared to the west coast), the general east coast model of having adequate homeless shelters combined with a lack of tolerance for violating public spaces has stood out significantly compared to the general west coast model. Cities such as San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland have had a much more hands off approach to enforcement, leading to widespread tent camping in public places.

Unfortunately, Arizona sits within the 9th District Court, one that has traditionally leaned liberal and against enforcement. This is exemplified by the Martin v. Boise case which ruled that it is not acceptable to enforce public campaign bans without an acceptable alternative, such as homeless shelter beds. This is frequently touted in west coast cities as an excuse for not enforcing the law. Thankfully, Judge Murray Snow is willing to push back on this some, but it does lead to difficulties for municipalities trying to solve this problem.

So how do we get around this obstacle and solve the problem? We must fast-track building enough shelter beds to accommodate Phoenix’s growing homeless population. It is heartening that Governor Hobbs and Mayor Gallego both seem to understand the critical nature of this, and it is critical that they also remove as many zoning barriers and various obstacles to this in order to build. If we have enough shelter space, we can both provide better options for the hard-on-their-luck homeless and assist local businesses impacted by the issues.

Make no mistake, this needs to happen now. The west coast’s response to this crisis has been abysmal, and its critical to show that local Democrats can act more decisively than west coast progressives. If not, get ready to see tents on your local neighborhood sidewalks.