Bill would force cities to remove homeless encampments, charge unhoused Arizonans with a crime
Lawmakers were told that a proposal to force cities to remove all homeless encampments and charge everyone living in them with trespassing was likely unconstitutional, but they nonetheless gave the measure a thumbs up.
The proposed law would require a county, city or town to remove a homeless encampment, even if it is located on private property, within 24 hours and impound the possessions of the unhoused people living there.
Whether Senate Bill 1413 is even legal was a major focus of the discussion when the Senate Judiciary Committee considered the bill on Feb. 16.
The City of Phoenix faced a legal battle over how it enforced an ordinance which banned “urban sleeping,” leading to removals of homeless encampments in the city. However, the city has backed off on enforcing that ordinance after a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling found it was unconstitutional for cities to ticket people for camping or sleeping in public areas if there are fewer shelter beds than the number of unhoused people.
Marilyn Rodriguez, a lobbyist for the ACLU of Arizona, said that the bill “violates well established federal precedent” as well as violating the Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights of homeless individuals. The former protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizures, while the latter provides citizens the right to due process.
“Criminalizing unhoused people does not help them, it will not end the housing crisis,” Rodriguez told senators on the panel. “I think to infer that individuals by the sheer basis that they are unhoused or that they have the right to be criminalized for that is problematic.”
Sen. Justine Wadsack, the Tucson Republican who sponsored the bill, told the Judiciary Committee that her legislation was written by attorneys at the conservative Goldwater Institute. The Goldwater Institute has filed an amicus brief in support of businesses that are currently suing the City of Phoenix over a homeless encampment near the State Capitol dubbed “The Zone.”
Marshall Pimentel, a lobbyist for the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, said that they oppose the measure because charging homeless individuals would put them in conflict with the 9th Circuit ruling.
But Wadsack denigrated the unhoused, saying they ruin Arizona and shouldn’t be viewed with compassion because they don’t “pay taxes” and aren’t “our neighbors.”
“This is not how Arizona works, this is not what the people who bought their homes who paid thousands of dollars asked for,” Wadsack said about encampments. “They’re homeless and they need to be dealt with as homeless.”
Sen. Anna Hernandez, D-Phoenix, encouraged her colleagues to come with her to “The Zone” and other areas where people are experiencing homelessness.
“I still believe this bill does nothing to help the issues,” Hernandez said.
In January 2020, the number of people experiencing homelessness in the state was nearly 11,000. By December 2021, the number was estimated to have increased by nearly 30%, according to the Arizona Department of Economic Security.
The bill passed along party lines, with Republicans backing it, and will head next to the full Senate for debate and possible voting.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a housing crisis call *211 to reach the state housing crisis hotline or visit 211arizona.org.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.