Flagstaff Considers 'Safe Parking Program' For People Who Are Homeless

Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - 2:54pm
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Some cities, like Surprise, Peoria and Phoenix, have “urban camping” laws, you’ve probably heard of them. They make it a crime to sleep in public places. Meaning, when shelters aren’t full, individuals cannot sleep, lie down, cook or store bedding on a public street, alley or park.

But a recent decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could mean cities will have to change the way they deal with people who live on the street.

Here in Phoenix, the city ran head-on into this issue earlier this year when a group of homeless residents set up camp in the middle of downtown Phoenix’s burgeoning Roosevelt Row arts district.

The 9th Circuit sided with six homeless people from Boise, Idaho, who sued the city in 2009 over a local ordinance that banned them from sleeping in public places. The court ruled such laws “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Maria Foscarinis is the founder and executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, whose attorneys were among those representing the homeless residents in the Boise case.

One area where this issue seems to be really hitting home is Flagstaff.

Stephanie Boardman is the executive director of the Sunshine Rescue Mission there, which oversees three homeless shelters — each serving a different homeless population. Just like in the Valley, Flagstaff has seen an increase in homelessness recently.

The city has a $25 million affordable housing bond up for a vote on November’s ballot that would help ease the growing problem there. Meanwhile, Boardman said sometimes car camping or urban camping is a choice some of her clients make, especially if they have a form of mental illness that makes group shelter living difficult.

Boardman said that even with urban camping prohibitions on the books, police in Flagstaff have dealt with the issue generously.

Flagstaff City Council is also considering creating a “safe parking program” that would create a place where people living out of their cars could spend the night legally. The Show reached out to the city about this urban camping decision and a spokesperson told us they are waiting to see if Boise will appeal or if the 9th Circuit will hear the case en Banc.

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