PHOENIX, AZ — The ACLU of Arizona, along with law firms Snell & Welmer, and Dickinson Wright, have filed a lawsuit against the city of Phoenix seeking an immediate stop to the unconstitutional raids the city subjects unhoused community members to. The lawsuit also challenges the enforcement of unlawful ordinances that criminalize this same community. Filed on behalf of the Fund for Empowerment (FFE), the lawsuit also represents two individual plaintiffs, Frank Urban and Faith Kearns, who have been directly impacted by previous raids and have received citations due to their status as unhoused individuals. The ACLU of Arizona is asking the court to provide immediate relief for unsheltered community members by forcing the city of Phoenix to halt plans for future raids and prevent the Phoenix Police Department (PPD) from enforcing city ordinances that criminalize homelessness.
“The city of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department have failed our most vulnerable community members by actively creating a dangerous environment for them to survive in,” said Ben Rundall, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Arizona. “Rather than finding real, lasting solutions to address homelessness, they have chosen to punish people for living outside — many of whom have already faced immense hardships and have no other options for shelter. The weaponization of these raids and unconstitutional city ordinances must stop immediately.”
As of January 2022, there were at least 6,038 people experiencing homelessness in Phoenix. More than half of those individuals are completely unsheltered, without access to an emergency shelter or transitional housing. Many are left with no other choice than to set up temporary shelter in The Zone, a 500-square-foot, shadeless, paved block in downtown Phoenix.
Rather than developing sustainable housing solutions for people in The Zone and dispersed across the city, the city of Phoenix has instead implemented raids that occur with little to no warning. Conducted by cleaning crews and police, these raids require unhoused people to move all of their belongings at a moment's notice. Anything remaining is discarded and destroyed — including important personal belongings such as medication, identification documents, and irreplaceable family photos. The controversial raids have been paused in the Zone since the beginning of this year but have continued elsewhere across the city. Additionally, city officials were recently cited in an article that indicates raids in The Zone could resume as early as December.
“People without shelter work tirelessly to survive, especially during the summer when they must face temperatures as high as 118 degrees on hot asphalt and no shade. Many are forced into The Zone by the city of Phoenix itself, and reinstating these raids will cause even more displacement and loss,” said Elizabeth Venable, co-founder of the Fund for Empowerment. “Our members have struggled to recover after the city destroyed everything from essential survival equipment to deeply sentimental items like their loved one’s ashes. People in our unsheltered community deserve resources to help them obtain housing security, not more criminalization and trauma.”
Previous raids have been accompanied by mass citations which can result in up to $250 in fines. While neighboring municipalities have amended unconstitutional city ordinances or halted their enforcement, the city of Phoenix and PPD have continued to weaponize state and local laws against its unsheltered population, criminalizing people for unavoidable activities like sleeping or walking in public.
The full complaint can be found here: https://www.acluaz.org/sites/default/files/2022.11.29_plaintiffs_complaint.pdf