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Phoenix Encampment Is Gone, but the City’s Homeless Crisis Persists

The city was under a court order to dismantle “the Zone,” a sprawling downtown homeless encampment, by Saturday.

Brenda Lowery, a social worker, helped Jose Yanez, left, gather his belongings on Thursday before being relocated to an indoor shelter.Credit...Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

The tents and campfires were gone. The sidewalks where people had built makeshift shelters from wood pallets and blue tarps were empty. On Friday, all that was left of “the Zone,” a sprawling homeless camp in downtown Phoenix, were discarded clothes, trash and questions about what comes next. For the first time in years, residents said the Zone felt all but empty, cleared out after an Arizona judge declared the area a “public nuisance” earlier this year and ordered Phoenix to dismantle the encampment by Saturday. Housing advocates say the operation appears to have removed — at least temporarily — a notorious symbol of the homelessness crisis in American cities. “It seems like some kind of sci-fi movie,” said Joel Coplin, whose home and art gallery sit in the heart of the Zone. “Overnight, they’re all gone.” He said he often woke to flashing lights of police cars and ambulances responding to fights, shootings, fires and overdoses outside his bedroom window.

Phoenix began clearing the area in May, going block by block to persuade homeless residents to move into hotel rooms, shelter beds or other short-term housing. About 600 people have left the encampment for temporary housing, the city said, at a cost of about $20 million. Phoenix is also opening a $13 million campsite in an empty lot nearby, with shaded tent shelters, food, bathrooms and showers with room for 300 people who do not want to — or cannot — stay inside. “This was a monumental effort,” said Rachel Milne, the director of Phoenix’s Office of Homeless Solutions. “It’s a tremendous difference.”


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