As we celebrate these holidays, let’s resolve to help the less fortunate. The article below, by Steve Twist and Seth Leibsohn, vividly describes the misery of homeless persons in our community. The most tragic are those who suffer from Serious Mental Illness (a pathological brain disorder) and co-occurring addiction and homelessness, living in our streets and jails. Approximately 30% of homeless persons and 30% of incarcerated persons are Seriously Mentally Ill.
Some are so mentally ill they believe their internal voices and delusions are real and, hence, they are pathologically unable to participate in their own treatment. Some seek relief with illicit substances, which exacerbates their illness and misery. To help these Chronically Mentally Ill persons, we need (a) more group homes with staff inside the homes 24 hours per day and 7 days per week, (b) well-regulated and secure residential treatment facilities from which residents cannot leave without authorization, to allow enough time for their treatment to become effective and (c) more beds and more accountability for care at the Arizona State Hospital, including removing the 55-bed limit on persons who reside in Maricopa County.
These three steps would provide better clinical outcomes at less cost than we now spend on recycling these persons through our emergency rooms, hospitals, short-term treatment programs, the streets, and jails, as their mental and physical health deteriorates.
We at the Association for the Chronically Mentally Ill (“ACMI”) welcome the attention Mr. Twist and Mr. Leibsohn bring to the problems described in their article. And we believe the three steps indicated above would be significantly helpful as to the persons who are homeless due to their Chronic Mental Illness.
Dick Dunseath, Board Secretary of the Association for the Chronically Mentally Ill, and father of an adult suffering with Chronic Mental Illness
Phoenix neglects homeless, ignores rampant crime in ‘the Zone’ (azcentral.com) published Nov 17th 2022
Phoenix neglects the homeless, ignores rampant crime in drug-riddled ‘Zone’
Opinion: Nearly 1,000 homeless folks exist in disease, filth and crime. Phoenix is guilty of not only neglecting them but setting a policy to not enforce laws.
Steve Twist and Seth Leibsohn
Within an area of central Phoenix, bounded roughly between Seventh and 15th avenues and Jefferson and Harrison streets, there is an ongoing dystopia. Euphemistically and casually, it’s referred to as “the Zone.”
This past week, an unborn child, at 20-24 weeks of gestation, was found dead in the middle of the street – burned to death.
There, nearly a thousand of our fellow citizens exist in disease, filth and crime. They are “living” on the streets, in makeshift tents and under tattered tarps, amid scattered garbage, human waste, chronic illness, drug paraphernalia, fire and fear.
These are the unseen, forgotten and abandoned. They are the mentally ill, walking the streets, talking to the air, battling unseen demons. They are the drug and alcohol addicted, so desperate for another fix or drink they will do anything except seek treatment. They are routinely victims of both crime and neglect.
No decent society abandons its fellow citizens to live this way; Darfur or Beirut is not our human or scenic aspiration. Not only is Phoenix guilty of shocking neglect of these most needy among us, it seems to be the policy of the city not to use the tools at its disposal to intervene as a force for help and repair.
Drug crimes, assaults define life in ‘the Zone’
Take the cases of crimes being committed against those in the Zone. Those living there are both routine and regular perpetrators and victims of serious crime. Not only are drug crimes the basis for regular escape and anesthesia, but sexual and aggravated assaults, robberies, arsons and thefts regularly define the contours of daily subsistence in the Zone.
In its 2020 report, Strategies to Address Homelessness, the city of Phoenix acknowledged, because of “Gaps,” “(t)he result is a fluctuating level of encampments along the streets, defecation in public – sometimes on private property, litter and debris, public drug use, lewd acts, theft and other property and violent crimes.”
It’s only become worse.
According to a recent complaint that area business operators filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, the city “refuses to enforce in and around the Zone quality-of-life ordinances prohibiting loitering, disturbing the peace, drunken and disorderly conduct, drug use, domestic violence, and obstructing streets, sidewalks, or other public grounds.”
So, the victims are abandoned.
People call for help thousands of times
Article 2 of our state constitution recognizes victims of crimes have the rights to “justice” and “to be treated with fairness, respect, and dignity.” These constitutional rights are promises made by the people of Arizona to every victim of crime, rights that city officials from the mayor on down have sworn to uphold.
Yet they have become a mockery as city officials refuse to enforce the very laws that have been written to protect victims from harm.
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In this limited area of a few city blocks, in just the first nine months of this year, people have called the police for help more than 2,800 times. On average, in just a few square blocks, more than 10 people need help from the police every day.
Enforcing our criminal laws when a homeless person commits a crime against another homeless person does not stigmatize homelessness: it respects the rule of law and the rights of the victim essential to natural order. It recognizes a humanity that inheres in certain populations too many of us would, evidently, rather ignore. And these prosecutions can result in services being mandated for the homeless perpetrator.
Actively police this area. Enforce the law
But Phoenix is so wrapped in the dogma that pushes the failed policy of “housing first” and appeasement rather than treatment that it leaves the victims with neither justice nor respect. It leaves the homeless abandoned to the vicious cycle of desperation and misery.
The city has been justifying its shameless inaction because of a misreading of a recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals case. But that case, Robert Martin v. City of Boise, noted, “Nor do we suggest that a jurisdiction with insufficient shelter can never criminalize the act of sleeping outside.
“Even where shelter is unavailable, an ordinance prohibiting sitting, lying, or sleeping outside at particular times or in particular locations might well be constitutionally permissible. So, too, might an ordinance barring the obstruction of public rights of way or the erection of certain structures.”
Start policing the Zone. Enforce the rule of law.
Start arresting those who break the law. Work with prosecutors and courts to screen for services and treatment. Start with a policy not of “housing first” but “protecting victims first.”
That is what a sane and civil community would do – before it spreads, and before more lives are brutalized and lost.
Steve Twist, a former chief assistant attorney general for Arizona, is the founder of the Arizona Voice for Crime Victims. Seth Leibsohn is a radio host at KKNT/960am and a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, which advocates for limited government. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org and SLeibsohn@salemphx.com.