The lawsuit claims that Phoenix has violated homeless residents’ constitutional rights by seizing their possessions in frequent encampment sweeps.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against Phoenix, claiming that the Arizona city’s policies “criminalize homelessness.”
According to The Arizona Republic, Phoenix routinely enforces shelter ordinances and conducts so-called “sweeps” of homeless encampments.
During the sweeps, Phoenix police officers typically enter encampments in the early morning, instructing occupants to collect their belongings and leave the area. The city then sends in cleanup crews, who remove, confiscate, or destroy and remaining property.
“Sometimes they would just show up at 3 in the morning, ‘OK, you gotta get up and go,’” said homeless Phoenix resident Frank Urban. “And they would be yelling it, or they would have a bullhorn.”
In its lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union says that law enforcement raids “criminalize, punish, and scatter” Arizonans experiencing homelessness.
The complaint notes that Arizona—like many states across the country—is facing an unprecedented shortage of affordable housing and shelter space.
“Rather than finding real, lasting solutions to address homelessness, (Phoenix and its police department) have chosen to punish people for living outside — many who have already faced immense hardships and have no other options for shelter,” A.C.L.U. senior staff attorney Ben Rundall said in a statement.
The Republic reports that Phoenix responded to the paper’s request for comment.
Speaking to the Republic, Phoenix spokesperson Dan Wilson said that, while the city has not yet been served the lawsuit, it has taken significant steps to combat homelessness.
Phoenix has, for instance, allocated approximately $50 million to homeless shelters, affordable housing, and mental health services across the city.
The city has also added nearly 600 new shelter beds, with a further 760 expected to become available in the coming year.
However, the A.C.L.U. claims that Phoenix’s police raids are not only unnecessary but violate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures and cruel and unusual punishment.
The American Civil Liberties Union also claims that, by seizing homeless Arizonans’ belongings, Phoenix is effectively depriving some of the city’s most vulnerable residents of their due process rights.
Urban told the Republic that, aside from facing regular police raids, he has also received citations for other homelessness-related offenses, including trespassing and sleeping on the sidewalk.
“I think Arizona thinks they’re above the law,” Urban said.
“Rather than confront its housing crisis head-on and invest in sustainable solutions to homelessness, the City is terrorizing the very people it should be helping,” the A.C.L.U. wrote in its lawsuit.