Tucson plans to remove homeless encampment soon, move people into hotel

Published: Jan. 6, 2022 at 10:34 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A bike path blemished by trash and tents is attracting a lot of attention.

KOLD News 13 has received questions from viewers about what the City of Tucson plans to do about the growing homeless encampment along Golf Links Road near Craycroft Road. As we first reported in November, Tucson’s Homeless Outreach Team is aware of the camp and members visit it regularly.

“Despite contrary belief, pretty much every homeless individual I have talked to does not like living outdoors,” said Sgt. Jack Julsing with the Tucson Police Department.

Next to a busy roadway, with military jets often flying overhead, several people have made the noisy corner of Aviation Bikeway their home. More than a dozen tents and makeshift shacks now line the path.

“Two days ago, we did a headcount there,” said Sgt. Julsing. “There’s about 25 to 30 people. There are no children there, a lot of single males and some couples.”

It’s not the first time city workers have removed an encampment at that location, but it is the largest.

“It is an eyesore, I understand that,” said Sgt. Julsing. “It is very visible because it is on a highly traveled route.”

Tucson City Council Member Steve Kozachik says it is not illegal to live outdoors. Instead of breaking up the camp, only to have those folks move to other areas of the community, Kozachik says they are working on a better solution.

“Understand that every shelter in Tucson right now has capacity virtually cut in half as a result of COVID,” he said.

Using its last CARES Act dollars, Tucson recently purchased its fourth hotel to open more emergency housing in a difficult market.

“We have an operator for the hotel who will manage it,” said Kozachik. “But not simply manage the hotel; to check the keys in and out, but to get people connected to the services they need. One of the issues with the whole ‘homelessness problem’ is even defining it. Are we talking about the veteran with PTSD? Are we talking about the single mom who is working two jobs and living in her car? Is it the senior couple who had their first catastrophic illness? Is it a person with a serious mental illness? Or drug addiction? It’s all of the above, and more! Therefore, finding one single silver bullet that solves homelessness is not possible. Everyone in that encampment is going to have a different menu of services they need. The other thing that makes this difficult is we can’t compel services on people. They have rights, too. Finally, if people have traveled to major cities across the country, they will recognize the fact that the ‘homeless problem’ in Tucson is nowhere near as severe as what other cities are experiencing. That is not at all to diminish the importance of connecting with these people at a very humanitarian level and trying to take care of their needs. That’s the goal, that’s the reason this hotel is opening.”

“It’s not necessarily that we are allowing it, but that we cutting our losses and saying, ‘They are not causing a major criminal issue there,’” said Sgt. Julsing. “We can get them into housing from that location a little easier.”

The latest emergency shelter is expected to be up and running in February. After people are moved out of the encampment into the hotel, the Tucson Department of Transportation and environmental service workers will clean-up what’s left.

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