Home>Housing crisis>AZ Legislators Join Oregon Homeless Encampment Suit

State Representative Shawnna Bolick speaking with attendees at a rally hosted by EZAZ at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix, January 10, 2022. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

AZ Legislators Join Oregon Homeless Encampment Suit

Houses join to file amicus brief requesting a SCOTUS ruling on homeless crisis

By Steve Kirwan, September 24, 2023 11:50 am

In a press release dated Sept. 20, Arizona Senate leader Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) announced that the Legislature filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in “City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Gloria Johnson, et al. At the heart of the case is a suit by three homeless Oregonians to prevent local and state governments from dismantling and banning homeless encampments.

Citing health and safety concerns, the state of Oregon is appealing lower court rulings, including by the Ninth Circuit Court, blocking state efforts to disburse and prevent homeless encampments. The case hits close to home, given the impact of Arizona’s “The Zone.” Located just a few blocks from the Arizona Capital, growing concerns over crime, health concerns, and drugs make a court-sanctioned remedy crucial.

In a joint filing, Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma hope to peel back ongoing litigation potentially hamstringing the state’s efforts to clean up the squalor. Arguing that the courts wrested control of typically state-driven lawmaking by misinterpreting the Eighth Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishment” clause, they seek to have the Supreme Court overturn the rulings.

“We’re talking about a humanitarian crisis that continues to spiral out of control in our state, thanks to bad court rulings, judicial overreach, and a litany of vetoes by the Governor,” said Petersen. “Lives and livelihoods are lost every single day that we continue to allow homeless encampments to grow in our communities. We must have clarity from the U.S. Supreme Court in order to holistically address the systemic issues contributing to homelessness, as well as the dire public safety and public health consequences created by allowing these encampments to remain. Once again, the Attorney General is absent, but the Speaker and I are committed to engaging for the betterment of Arizona.”

Homeless encampment in Sacramento, Calif. (Photo: Katy Grimes for Arizona Globe)

State Senator John Kavanagh (R-LD3) agreed. “Many of the street homeless population are seriously mentally ill, drug addicted, or both. It is unconscionable that these vulnerable people are being allowed to live in squalid circumstances on the street where they may abuse drugs and become crime victims. This situation is a result of federal court rulings that some say prohibit the police from enforcing street camping bans even when shelter can be provided to the homeless person. It is imperative that the Supreme Court clarify lower court rulings so that if homeless persons are offered shelter and refuse, they can be removed from the street by the police.”

“Homelessness is one of the top issues impacting Legislative District 2, putting law enforcement and private property owners into the direct fray due to the lack of leadership at Phoenix City Hall,” stated Senator Shawnna Bolick (R-LD2). “My constituents want safe neighborhoods, not ones littered with used needles and drug paraphernalia often left overnight for their kids to encounter on the way to the bus stop to get to school. There are quite a few civil society groups stepping up, but it’s not enough. I hope the USSC does the right thing. Government exists for public safety, and Arizona’s Governor, along with the Phoenix Mayor are failing their citizens.”

Despite efforts by the City to disperse “The Zone,” efforts are slow. The incremental approach currently underway is due, at least in part, to continuing concerns over potential legal fallout. Lawmakers continue to eye a possible Supreme Court ruling to preclude potential lawsuits and solve the growing homeless crisis in Arizona.

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