Joe Duhownik

PHOENIX (CN) — With just three days to spare, the city of Phoenix has cleared the large homeless encampment known as the zone ahead of the deadline imposed by a Maricopa County Judge.

Starting around 6 a.m. Wednesday, Phoenix Homeless Solutions officials cleared the last block of the encampment of all tents and other temporary structures, offering each of the roughly 70 remaining people a shelter option.

The zone stretched from 7th to 15th Avenues between Washington and Grant Streets and more than 1,000 people have set up tents over the last few years. The Human Services Campus, a Phoenix-based nonprofit aiming to end homelessness in the city, estimated that nearly 1,000 people lived in the zone around May.

The city began clearing the tents on May 10, going block by block and taking three weeks between each “enhanced engagement,” as the city calls it, to ensure the availability of shelter beds for each group of people it engaged. Officials also said the city had to move at that speed to ensure people are treated fairly and have time to assess their options and prepare to move.

A Maricopa County judge wasn’t happy with the city’s pace though, in September ordering it to finish clearing the zone by Nov. 4 following a lawsuit filed by residents and business owners in the neighborhood in which the zone popped up.

More than 360 people were left in the zone at that time.

“Once we got the notice that 11/4 was our deadline, we added additional resources,” Homeless Solutions deputy director Scott Hall said Wednesday morning. “We opened up three hotels in a brief period of time.”

The city announced 302 newly available shelter beds across three hotels in partnership with Community Bridges Inc., Central Arizona Shelter Services and A New Leaf Arizona. It also added 60 beds at the Washington Relief Center.

Hall said the increased speed didn’t come at the sacrifice of treating the zone’s inhabitants with humanity.

“A lot of our partners have stepped up to help, so we’ve still been able to offer everybody shelter,” he said. “All the teams have come together, so we’ve been able to maintain that same fidelity we had in the beginning, just speeded up.”

An outdoor shaded structure meant for camping is also under development, and should be available to up to 200 people in the coming weeks. Hall said it’s already open to a small number of people as needed. It will have indoor bathroom and shower spaces, meal services, and will be fully staffed with case managers and security like any other shelter.

A reporter asked Wednesday morning why the city didn’t operate at this increased pace to begin with, if it was possible all along.

“Over the last few years, the city of Phoenix has drastically worked to try to get some of the crisis measures in place,” Hall answered. “Shelter, outreach, property storage, places where we can have pets… The development of those was going at a good pace, but with that deadline, it just made us have to add a few more resources.”

Hall said he doesn’t have updated numbers on how many people from the zone have been offered and or have accepted help since May, but Phoenix spokesperson Kristin Couturier said on Oct. 18 that 260 people had accepted a spot in an indoor shelter or treatment facility out of 333 people engaged — a far cry from the nearly 1,000 estimated by the Human Services Campus.

Hall said part of that discrepancy could come from inaccurate counts. People who have received treatment or a shelter bed will often go back and spend time in the zone to be with friends or family, and are then counted as an inhabitant of the zone even though they’ve moved out, he explained.

The city is expected to appear in court on Nov. 30 to demonstrate how it has adhered to the judge’s order.