This article comes, not surprisingly, as Occupy Phoenix challenges the Phoenix Camping Ordinance, enacted to give cops more tools to hassle and control the movements of people without homes. Some citizen groups in the community (like Require the Prior) have been actively working to make violations of statutes like this affecting homeless people and families into felonies so these dangerous "career criminals" who brazenly sleep in public can be given even more serious penalties. Please check out their website for their full agenda - they purport to be defending the homeless from the "cultural crime" that the REAL bad guys perpetrate against them by posing as homeless people and giving them all a bad name. These are the folks that joined the Phoenix PD in their dog and pony show this summer arguing against the budget cuts recommended by the Berkshire report. The PPD meetings I attended about those proposed cuts were packed with the same pro-police advocates from Require the Prior representing themselves as THE "grassroots" community response urging that regardless of whether crime is up or down in Phoenix, we need more police - especially the ones who are serving, in essence, as social workers (the people we should really be employing to "help" the poor and homeless, not cops).
At the Occupy Phoenix HQ in Cesar Chavez Plaza these past few weeks the cops have been targeting the most vulnerable guests and members of OP for citation and arrest - most often those who have no place else to sleep all day, and seek refuge when exhausted where they may be least likely to be assaulted or robbed when they lay down their heads. They are least able to afford the cost of tickets and most likely to pay with their time if they can't produce satisfactory Arizona state identification (the Phoenix PD wrings their hands and claim that without in-state ID they HAVE to book violators into jail instead of issue citations so they can be properly identified - which means EVERYONE in Arizona should be subject to the violence of arrest over minor infractions if we don't carry our papers at all times - not just the homeless and suspected undocumented immigrants who the public doesn't care about inconveniencing). Is this the kind of policing this town needs so much that we have to tax food purchases? Is this what is supposed to keep our city "safe"?
I've been supporting activists with Phoenix Homeless Rising (go read their report) in their efforts to abolish the camping ordinance for the past year, but it wasn't until I saw 4 Phoenix Police actually take a homeless woman to jail this weekend for peacefully sleeping that it really sunk in how cruel and absurd it is to make sleeping a crime deserving of arrest and incarceration. It reflects extremely poorly on the inhumanity and pettiness of the police, the city government, and the business community in Phoenix - as well as Require the Prior type groups who claim to represent the interests of the more deserving citizenry in our town. The shelters and "overflow" lots are full and dangerous, leaving thousands of people vulnerable to the elements, violence and arrest every night for simply existing. I believe it's time for Occupy Phoenix to begin to occupy vacant buildings - as other Occupies have done - and demand meaningful, safe options for our homeless brothers and sisters...jail is not it.
Police precinct teams with community to keep park clearWhen boundary lines for Phoenix Police Department precincts shifted last year, Mountain View Precinct inherited a problem.
Homeless people were crowding Margaret T. Hance Park -- previously part of the Central City Precinct -- and residents of nearby neighborhoods felt unsafe.
"Things just really got out of control," said park manager Brian Flanigan. The park, at Central Avenue and Culver Street, "almost looked like a campground at times," he said. "You'd be stepping over bodies."
"Every now and then, we'll try a zero-tolerance approach, which will occasionally displace the problem," said Mountain View Commander Glen Gardner. "But one of the things we've recognized as a department is that you can't arrest your way out of most problems. A lot of these issues have deep-rooted social causes, and that's where it becomes really important to ... come up with a solution that's long-term."
About two months ago, precinct officials decided to try a more individualized approach. The effort, part of Phoenix's Street Crime Reduction Program, focuses arrests on career criminals and repeat offenders while connecting others who are simply down on their luck to appropriate local resources.
Mountain View Officer Rusty Stuart, who has studied Phoenix homeless populations for years and successfully implemented a similar effort at Steele Indian School Park, was a natural fit to head the Hance Park initiative, Gardner said. Area volunteers and employees from city departments such as parks, law and human services also have pledged their support.
The situation at Hance is unique not only because of the sheer number of homeless people who gather there, but also because of the diversity of the park's homeless population, according to Stuart and other city officials.
"Every now and then, we'll have an individual who is a real bad guy, and we're able to put together a case to show he has no intention of changing his lifestyle," Gardner said. "But other people are out there just because of mental illnesses or economic circumstances."
Human-services caseworker Jessica Miley is the primary contact for the second group of people, many of whom have initially been hesitant to trust her, she said.
"Some of these people have been lost in the system and have been on the streets 10, 20 years," Miley said. "They're like 'Oh, I've been told that before. I've been promised that before. Everybody keeps telling me and nobody does anything.' "
Since getting involved at Hance, Miley has referred more than 20 people to temporary housing and other resources, working as a go-between for homeless people, their former and potential employers, housing officials and others.
"I set aside time for initial meetings, and I also take them to a Social Security appointment, a doctor's appointment, that sort of thing," she said. "I'll start with getting them documentation that's going to be required to apply for things or benefits and move from there. I'll go through all the necessary channels to get to our clients off the street."
Stuart and Miley often turn to local church groups and other faith-based volunteers for temporary assistance -- a significant departure from officers' relationship with such volunteers in the past.
"I reached out to the church groups that were coming here instead of doing what we'd traditionally have to do -- kick them out of the park," Stuart said. "We've put together this whole coalition of churches that are very involved. Bible Baptist Church is kind of heading it up. They have a kitchen, showers, a huge gymnasium, a living space for temporary housing. We're looking at expanding that, doing the work that needs to be done to get the space up to code."
And for those homeless people "who just won't stop, won't listen, won't take the services offered and continue to break the law," community prosecutor Barbara Parascandola is standing by.
Parascandola, with the city prosecutor's office, has been assigned to handle issues with repeat offenders, defined as people with five related arrests in the last year.
So far, only one person has been referred to Parascandola.
Though development of the effort at Hance Park is still in progress, Mountain View is already looking at using a similar approach at other parks.
Stuart was recently assigned a partner, and together they are designing a training program so police officers can implement the approach in other parts of town.