Arizona’s homeless could be targeted by police under Supreme Court ruling

By Sahara Sajjadi | AZ Mirror

WASHINGTON – Advocates for homeless people in Arizona fear the Supreme Court has raised the risk of violence at the hands of police by upholding ordinances that criminalize sleeping in public places.

Phoenix made national headlines for months last year after a judge in Maricopa County ordered the city’s largest homeless encampment, The Zone, to be cleared. Downtown businesses had complained it posed a safety hazard.

Advocacy groups denounced the order. By November, the encampment was cleared, displacing hundreds of people.

In June, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report on the Phoenix Police Department after an investigation that lasted almost three years. The report found that Phoenix police routinely violated the rights of homeless people by unlawfully detaining, citing and arresting them and unlawfully disposing of their belongings.

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling upheld a law from Oregon, effectively ratifying similar ordinances in Phoenix and other cities that ban sleeping outdoors or in encampments in public spaces.

Arizona advocates worry the ruling will have disastrous implications.

“Homelessness is complex. Its causes are many. So may be the public policy responses required to address it,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority.

Jared Keenan, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, expressed concern about the effect of the ruling on homeless people across the state.

“It’s harder to imagine a starker example of excessive punishment than fining, arresting and jailing people for sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go. And that is the situation here in Phoenix, where we do not have enough shelter space, affordable housing, long-term housing,” Keenan said. “The Supreme Court has given the green light to cities to criminalize existence when you’re unhoused.”


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