PHOENIX — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ACLU of Arizona is asking a judge to find the city of Phoenix in contempt of a court order that prohibits it from violating the constitutional rights of unhoused people during encampment sweeps.
The December court order, which is still in effect, prohibits the city from enforcing its camping and sleeping bans against unhoused people who cannot practically obtain shelter, and from seizing and destroying their belongings without notice and an opportunity to reclaim their property.
During a sweep of encampments on 9th Avenue between Washington and Jefferson Streets on May 10, in the area known as “The Zone,” witnesses reported that the city of Phoenix:
- Seized and destroyed many unsheltered individuals’ personal belongings and property in this area.
- Was not seen storing or marking collected items for storage.
- Did not make individualized assessments before coercing unsheltered individuals into limited and possibly unavailable shelter spaces
- Did not allow unsheltered individuals to return to the area that was cleaned, as their own cleanup plan required.
- Threatened citation and arrest without first ensuring available shelter that fit the individual’s needs.
The ACLU of Arizona’s filings include declarations from advocates, a worker at the Human Services Campus, a chronically unhoused resident, and pictures documenting violations that occurred on May 10.
“The property I saw collected and destroyed included tents, bedding, blankets, clothes, tarps, storage containers, a walker, mattresses, water coolers, and a bike,” Elizabeth Venable, co-founder and lead organizer at the Fund for Empowerment stated in a sworn declaration. “I saw the City use excavators and dump trucks to load up and destroy property... As the excavators scooped up property, many of the items were crushed.”
“What happened on May 10 is unacceptable. Not only did the city of Phoenix violate an active court order, but they failed to follow their own protocols to treat unsheltered individuals with dignity and respect during a cleaning,” said Jared Keenan, legal director for the ACLU of Arizona. “The city should be held accountable for its conduct before any future cleanings can take place.”
The City of Phoenix has already announced plans to conduct a second sweep in the Zone on May 24. On behalf of plaintiffs, the ACLU of Arizona is asking the court to modify the court order to prevent further sweeps in the Zone until the city can ensure compliance.
The ACLU of Arizona filed a lawsuit against the city of Phoenix in November 2022, seeking an immediate stop to unconstitutional practices that exacerbate the homelessness crisis by punishing unsheltered individuals for sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go and destroying their personal property without notice. The lawsuit argues that the city’s practices violate individuals’ right to be free from unreasonable seizures of their property, right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, and deprive individuals of their property without due process.
The city conducted unconstitutional raids targeting the unsheltered community without notice. During these raids, unsheltered people were given mere minutes to collect and move their personal belongings. Any belongings unsheltered people were unable to collect in time were destroyed. The city also issued citations to unsheltered people for sleeping and camping in public, even though they had nowhere else to go. Finally, the city knowingly created a danger by pushing unsheltered people into a large encampment nicknamed the Zone.
Filed on behalf of the Fund for Empowerment (FFE), the lawsuit also represents three individual plaintiffs, Frank Urban, Faith Kearns, and Ronnie Massingille, who have been directly impacted by previous raids and have received citations due to their status as unsheltered individuals.
This lawsuit sought immediate relief for unsheltered community members by asking the court to order the city of Phoenix to halt plans for future raids and prevent Phoenix police from enforcing city ordinances that criminalize homelessness.
In December, the court issued an emergency order, that remains in effect, prohibiting the city from enforcing its camping and sleeping bans against unhoused people who cannot practically obtain shelter, and from seizing and destroying their belongings without notice and an opportunity to reclaim their property.
Beginning in March, the ACLU and the City of Phoenix negotiated the terms of a settlement agreement which would have ensured constitutional compliance with unsheltered individuals’ rights during cleanups and displacements. Plaintiffs signed what was understood to be the final agreement in early May, but Defendants moved forward with the sweep on May 10 without counter-signing the agreement.
The new filing can be found here.
Declarations from witnesses at the May 10 sweep can be found here: