PHOENIX – David King sits on the couch where he sleeps across the street from the Human Services Campus and watches as people walk in and out of the campus shelters. The tents that line the streets surrounding the shelters house a community of people all struggling from the same problem: homelessness.
King said he has been living on the streets and working as a pastor at shelters for 17 years. Drug addiction led him to living on the streets, but finding God led him to helping others.
“Some people want to be out here because maybe something happened in their lifetime and something they’ve been through and it takes time for them to unwind,” King said.
Under Arizona SB 1413, King and the other people living outside the shelters would have their homes dismantled. The bill requires cities and towns to tear down homeless encampments and charge the person or people living there with trespassing if they’re on private property.
“I sponsored SB 1413 because Tucson and Pima County as a whole are suffering from just an overabundance of homelessness,” Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, said.
Wadsack said in an interview that business owners and homeowners in her district are fed up with the lack of action when it comes to encampments.
“Nobody should walk outside their four-star restaurant and find human feces in their front doorstep,” Wadsack said, noting business owners have raised issues of having to come in before their employees in order to clean up human waste, trash and encampments. Private homeowners have complained about homeless people living in their arroyos and back alleys, she said.
Wadsack said that even if the bill doesn’t become law, she will continue to work toward solutions in Tucson and Pima County. The bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate Wednesday on a straight party-line vote, with all 16 Republicans and no Democrats supporting the bill. It now heads to the House, but even if it passes there it could be a tough sell to get it past Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.
Sen. Anna Hernandez, D-Maryvale, opposes the bill.
“I think that Senate Bill 1413 is policing our unhoused neighbors, and I don’t believe we should be policing issues that we have caused,” Hernandez said. “It doesn’t offer any solutions, it doesn’t offer any services.”
Hernandez said time would be better spent writing policies that help people and looking at why people are experiencing homelessness.
“Let’s address rent costs, let’s address not enough housing, let’s address not enough shelter space, not enough wrap-around services,” Hernandez said. “Let’s look at why these things are happening and put resources into that, and then we wouldn’t see these problems.”
Hernandez said the bill is written without compassion.
“We should be helping people and that is a cost, that’s a reality that if we invested those resources into finding solutions, then it is less expensive than criminalizing people and policing and putting them in jail,” Hernandez said, noting that a combination of issues has contributed to the issue of rising homelessness.
“We need to address rent control, we need to address why folks can’t even access housing in the first place and let’s look at ideas around that,” Hernandez said.
According to the Arizona Department of Economic Security’s 2022 Homelessness in Arizona Annual Report, there were 13,553 people experiencing homelessness in Arizona in January 2022, when the annual Point-In-Time homelessness count was conducted – an increase of nearly 25% since 2020.
King said the Senate bill is unfair to him and others who are unhoused and that there are other solutions.
“If they would purchase and have more room for homeless people – like areas where they can have places like this, that are taken care of and looked after by the people that are homeless – that would be a really big solution to help out the people that are helping us out,” King said.
A woman who lives in a tent outside of the Human Services Campus and asked not to be identified said removing tents and arresting people will not help anyone.
“Some people lost their jobs, their homes, their families, so just putting them in jails and taking away their home that they have now wouldn’t be a good solution,” she said.
She urged legislators to come down and see for themselves the problem and hear people’s stories. She urged them to assist the people experiencing homelessness and get them the help they need instead of arresting them.
Though some people are just down on their luck, “some people chose to come here and get help,” she said. “They moved out of a situation that wasn’t good for them so they came here to get help, but there are a lot of homeless, so it takes time for just the shelter in general to help all of us out here.”