AZ GOP Senator proposes state-sponsored camps, possible jail for homeless

Posted at 12:03 PM, Apr 03, 2021

Arizona legislators are considering a bill that would drastically change how the state handles its unsheltered homeless population.

House Bill 2668 has several provisions that include:

  • the creation of state-sponsored homeless camps that unsheltered people would be required to camp in
  • and a requirement that cities with more than 50,000 people who with homelessness numbers that are above the state average, must set aside between 10 and 50% of public safety grants provided by the state for outreach.

Joan Serviss, executive director of the Arizona Housing Coalition said outreach—which is already aggressively done by cities—is not the problem.

“What's missing is that there's not enough shelter beds, and we don't have enough affordable housing,” Serviss said.

The bill also includes the threat of criminal charges for sleeping on state-owned land.

A first offense would result in placement in mental health, job training or addiction treatment services. If caught a second time the penalties increase to a misdemeanor charge which carries a sentence of up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.

“And if you can't pay it, those late fees are added on. And that's a barrier to housing and a barrier to employment,” she said.

She also says it’s unconstitutional.

“The Supreme Court even upheld that you can't create any kind of camping ban if there's not enough resources to address street living and affordable housing.”

They are all things Serviss said she would have brought up if anyone had asked. Instead told ABC15 that Arizona’s housing and homelessness agencies were completely left out of the drafting of the bill.

The legislation was introduced by Senator David Gowan (R-Sierra Vista) on Monday as a strike everything amendment. More commonly known as a striker, it happens when a bill is replaced with new language after being introduced.

Gowan’s office did not respond to ABC15’s request for comment before our deadline.

Serviss is hoping to make some major changes to the bill and work to secure the additional resources she said are needed to address homelessness in Arizona.

“We should be moving folks from the streets into housing, that is the best practice,” she said.