Scottsdale camping ban could target homeless people | City News
A A new ordinance quietly passed by Scottsdale City Council last week could have serious implications for the city’s homeless population by effectively criminalizing camping on nearly half of the city’s public park land.
The order could also put the city at odds with a 2018 ruling by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
In Martin v. Boise, the court ruled it was unconstitutional for cities to punish homeless people for sleeping outside if there is not an adequate supply of shelter beds available.
The ruling, which applies to western US municipalities in the 9th Circuit, led many cities, including Scottsdale, to repeal outdoor camping bans that appeared to violate the ruling.
Scottsdale’s new ordinance is narrower.
It prohibits camping on any land in the city that is prone to flooding or that is in a watercourse. Offenders can be charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $ 500 and up to 30 days in jail.
The council unanimously passed the ordinance on May 4 on its consent agenda, a catch-all category typically used for non-controversial items.
According to a Progress Analysis of Scottsdale City Parks and Floodplain Maps, the city has just over 1,000 acres of parks and 44.25% of them are in areas designated as flood zones or floodplains. Waterways.
The majority of the affected park – about 313 acres – is in parks along the city’s Indian Bend Wash greenbelt, a vast green space in southern Scottsdale built decades ago as an alternative to a canal in concrete to respond to the problems of annual flooding.
South Scottsdale is also the area of the city with the highest concentration of homeless people, according to the Maricopa Association of Government’s 2020 Homeless Count Map.
The city justified the new ordinance in the name of public safety.
“The purpose of this section is to protect the lives and safety of people who may be endangered by flooding, including flash floods, by choosing to camp in areas prone to flooding or in a waterway.” , according to the wording of the order.
According to a report from city staff, the Scottsdale Fire Department has carried out 22 rapid water rescues from flooding in the past 10 years.
A city spokesperson could not provide more details on the number of such rescues involving people camping.
“Prior to the Martin v. Boise decision, all public camping was prohibited, whether or not it posed a safety concern, so it is unlikely that anyone would camp in an area prone to flooding,” spokesperson Kelly Says Corsette. “The purpose of the ordinance is to be proactive and to try to avoid a tragedy before it happens.”
The city has also seen an increase in camping, mostly under bridges in the city’s desert greenbelt, Corsette said.
Corsette also said he did not believe the new ordinance violates the 9th Circuit ruling “because the purpose of the ordinance is to protect the lives and safety of people who may be endangered by the flooding, including including flash floods, choosing to camp in areas prone to flooding and in waterways. “
Corsette also noted that the ordinance states that a person cannot be cited or arrested without first having the opportunity to move.
City staff will also work with the non-profit Phoenix Rescue Mission to conduct outreach to the homeless and provide potential housing options.
But those stipulations may not be enough, according to Tristia Bauman, senior counsel for the National Homelessness Law Center.
“It is certainly better than not giving a person the opportunity to comply with the order… it is an argument that it would not necessarily comply” in the Martin v. Boise, she said.
She noted that the court ruling “speaks of indoor shelter alternatives and not necessarily another open plot of land where someone could engage in activities.”
This goes to the heart of the 9th Circuit decision in Martin v. Boise, who basically said a city can’t ban sleeping in public spaces if it doesn’t provide adequate indoor alternatives.
“The panel felt that as long as there is no option to sleep indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent homeless people for sleeping outside on public property under the false premise that they had a choice in the matter “, according to the opinion.
There is currently only one homeless shelter in Scottsdale, according to the National Database on homelessshelterdirectory.org.
And this shelter, run by the nonprofit Family Promise of Greater Phoenix, is just open to families. the homeless people contacted in the city increased from 50 in 2017 to 102 people in 2020.
Phoenix Rescue Mission, a non-profit organization hired by the city to provide services to the homeless, contacted 189 people living on the streets in Scottsdale this year.
Bauman said the city had genuine public safety rationale for the ordinance.
The city includes many floodplains identified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including the Greenbelt area, which was the site of massive annual flooding before the Indian Bend Wash was built.
But she said the language of the ordinance is worded too broadly and could result in homeless people being treated differently from other Scottsdale residents.
“It is appropriate that governments regulate public space in a way that ensures safety for all… but this ordinance does not distinguish between the risk of flooding during times when the same spaces are open to the general public and when closed, ”said Bauman mentioned.
The broad definition of camping in the ordinance goes beyond the simple ban on sleeping in an area at risk of flooding.
“” Camp “means to reside or use a place for lodging purposes; including, but not limited to, activities such as erecting tents or any other structure providing shelter, digging or breaking up the earth, laying down bedding for sleeping, using camp paraphernalia, putting away one’s personal belongings, lighting a fire, regularly cooking or preparing meals, or living in a parked vehicle. “
The ordinance also bans “camp accessories,” including “tarpaulins, cots, beds, sleeping bags, hammocks or cooking facilities not designated by the city and similar equipment.”
Bauman said broad language means that a homeless person, or anyone else, could potentially violate the order if they have a sleeping bag, blanket or other belongings with them in a park in a flood zone.
Depending on how the ordinance is enforced, Bauman said it could potentially violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
She said the implications of this broad language will largely come down to how the ordinance is enforced.
For example, will the paraphernalia ban be applied in the same way against a homeless person with a sleeping bag and another person in the park with a picnic blanket?
“There is a risk that homeless people will be treated differently for a number of reasons,” Bauman said. “One, just a kind of general animosity for the homeless population, but also because this law is written to include such a wide range of activities in its definition.”
Bauman said the city could have done a better job adapting the ordinance to strictly ban camping in flood-prone areas when the risk of flooding is high or at night when a person is more likely to be caught off guard. by a flash flood.
Beyond the legal implications, Ms Bauman said she also believed the new ordinance was simply bad policy for homeless people and Scottsdale taxpayers.
“Taxpayers pay a very high price for this type of application, which does not reduce the number of people who live outside and in fact does the opposite,” Bauman said.
“Criminal convictions and legal fines are barriers to escaping homelessness and can sometimes be direct barriers to accessing housing or employment.”