/ Modified jan 25, 2023 8:29 p.m.

City under scrutiny for alledged homeless encampment sweeps ahead of gem show

An injunction was filed to stop the enforcement of two city ordinances that would criminalize homelessness.

360 homeless outreach team Items scattered about at a homeless encampment near Golf Links Road in Tucson.

Community on Wheels, an advocacy group for unsheltered persons, has filed an injunction against the City of Tucson asking a court to block two ordinances that would remove homeless encampments in parks. The group claims that the city plans to use the statutes for removals in Santa Rita Park because of the start of the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral show.

In yesterday’s study session, City Attorney Mike Rankin “strongly” denied the allegations.

“I think you all know that we have standardized and very transparent enforcement protocol for the enforcement of our codes relating to the camps and standing in parks after hours,” Rankin said. “Those are posted online. They’re written. There’s no mystery to them.”

Representing attorney Paul Gattone says that the two ordinances being used would actually criminalize homelessness, giving out misdemeanor offenses that would be punishable by up to six months in jail.

“We believe that this is, you know, an ongoing effort to sweep homeless people out of the public eye,” Gattone said. “People see them and feel it’s an eyesore. But again these are human beings. These are people just trying to survive.”

The two ordinances currently prohibit people from entering parks after hours and bans the placement of temporary shelter in places like Santa Rita Park. In their initial lawsuit with Community Care Tucson and the People’s Defense Initiative, they claimed that the city cannot sweep the encampments until public housing efforts meet the high demand.

Gattone goes as far as writing in the initial lawsuit that “avoiding public places is also impossible.”

In their injunction request, Community on Wheels says that citations, ticketing, arrests or threats to cite, ticket, and arrest are punishments for “the involuntary status of homelessness.” They are asking that the prohibition last until the city can confirm that Tucson’s unhoused residents have immediately available and accessible emergency shelter.

Residents protested at the Tucson city council meeting demanding a change. However, the council did not comment on the alleged housing sweeps during the meeting. Tucsonan Stephanie Madero Pina has lived in the Santa Rita Park neighborhood for six years and says that the sweeps have to stop.

“I am simply asking for no more sweeps at 3 o’clock in the morning,” she said. “When they do the sweeps, the Tucson Police department, where are these individuals supposed to go at 3 o’clock in the morning.”

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