Pima County closing homeless camps

Published: Dec. 4, 2015 at 5:54 PM MST|Updated: Jan. 29, 2016 at 6:26 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Pima County has begun the process to close homeless camps on public property, some of which have been tolerated for more than a decade.

One reason, according to a Nov. 25 memo from the Department of Environmental Quality, is the number of complaints has more than doubled this year.

According to the memo, the department averaged about 10 complaints a year for the past 18 years. This year, it has ballooned to 22 complaints so far.

It's become a strain on the department, consuming a big portion of the budget for its illegal dumping program.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has asked the Sheriff's department to "remove any and all homeless encampments on Pima County public lands."

"If they don't leave, we will arrest them for trespassing and then their belongings will be confiscated," said Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos.

Nanos said he has no choice but to arrest people who have "had fair warning."

"If they refuse to leave the property, by statute, we have no choice," he said.

Nanos is also concerned about housing the homeless in jail because of the steep cost.

It costs nearly $300 just to book a person into jail. Costs can be as high as $85 a day.

He believes it could be trading one issue for another.

"It has the potential," he said.

Nanos said the homeless will first be offered public services if they leave the property. He said there are a variety of services available but concedes not everyone wants them.

It's those people who are most at risk of being arrested.

As far as where people go, he believes when they leave "they go to the next empty lot."

The county has asked Regional Flood Control District to continue to monitor the rivers and flood plains for signs the homeless have taken up residence elsewhere.

Roughly 15 encampments have been identified on county lands which need to be remediated, generally along the Rillito and Santa Cruz rivers.

Some have become well established, such as a large encampment along the Santa Cruz near El Camino del Cerro.

One homeless man said he had lived in the camp since 1999. It is now closed and access is denied by lock and key.

The county mission comes as the Tucson City Council makes plans to discuss a new and revised sidewalk ordinance governing the homeless on Dec. 15.

Huckelberry has directed the Regional Flood Control District to monitor the areas to make sure the homeless don't return.

County officials said the county spends an estimated $55,000 annually on remediation efforts.

It's expected to be higher this year since 21 camps have been closed and cleaned up so far, with others still being identified.

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