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Fight Against Urban Camping

Continues In Phoenix

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Mike Shipley. Image by Chris Braswell.
Slider Image by jamesfischer and used under the terms of a Creative Commons License.

Ballot Initiative And A Street Newspaper Are Being Organized By The Phoenix Campaign To Legalize Urban Kamping In Hopes Of Ending Ordinance That Makes It A Crime To Be Homeless


By Chris Braswell
Modern Times Magazine

May 31, 2014 — The Phoenix Campaign to Legalize Urban Kamping (CLUK) continues to fight a Phoenix city law that makes it a crime to be homeless.

A petition to change the portions of Phoenix City Code which “criminalize homelessness” (PCC 23-8 paragraph B; and the entire section of PCC 23-30) is being circulated, said Mike Shipley, a local CLUK activist who is working to launch Vox Phoenicia, a local CLUK street newspaper. However, the local electoral protocols and social mores in place present a challenge to CLUK organizers that is philosophically similar to that of protecting the natural human rights of homeless people, Shipley said.

For ballot access (the next city election in Phoenix is in 2015), such a grassroots-based voters initiative requires 25,480 valid signatures, the deadline for which is six months from the date of the first valid signature, which was on March 22. At this time, the initiative has accumulated about 1,000 signatures.

The proposed initiative would also add a new clause to the city code, to ensure that the loitering clause is not interpreted to include peaceably sleeping or preparing to sleep, Shipley said.

“We've been circulating these for a couple of months now, but circulators expect to get paid. We will probably have to restart, and are hoping Vox Phoenicia helps move the effort along,” he said.

Vox Phoenicia is a means to address such problems, he said. The street publication would serve to educate the often-disenfranchised homeless (or “urban campers”), would employ homeless people as the newspaper's disseminators who would retain half of the recommended $1 dollar donation.

“The non-profit industrial complex makes a lot of money off of the portions of the community that it can serve, and sweeps the rest of them under the rug,” Shipley said. “This is considered a really radical cause, so if it becomes a success they will use their legal means to shut us down.”

Although it may be “thought of” as a “really radical cause,” Shipley's group does not seem to be making such a far-fetched philosophical point. Homelessness, like prostitution, is not a phenomenon that is new to the human condition, however, simply because it has been a problem recurring throughout history does not mean it should be disregarded as a social issue today.

The subject begs important questions related to public safety, social cost and justice, human rights, and morality. According a classical Libertarian school of thought, prosperity can be thought of as a human rights issue, said Shipley, who is also the Arizona chapter organizer and national secretary of Outright Libertarians. Such a way of thinking puts forth that poverty and beggarliness in a community is an unavoidable consequence of allowing exceptional levels of privilege. So, if our currency system is a public contract, in an applied sense, thus encompassing the best interest of the entire community, then there would be somewhere and something for every individual therein. But there is not, and the story of downtown Phoenix's Patriots Square Park is an example of a modern irony of “passing by a beggar on one's walk to the temple.”

Patriots Square was an urban park in downtown Phoenix that was redeveloped as part of RED Development's $1 billion private capital “CityScape” office and retail project. One of RED's principal partners was Donald Cardon, a developer and former city of Phoenix deputy housing director, according to a 2006 article in the newspaper. The square was originally constructed in 1976 and remodeled in 1988. By some accounts, the park remained on the decline, and was a place for homeless people to rest, from the time of its remodel until the redevelopment that broke ground in 2007. By other accounts, it was a vibrant, central subculture location, and a place for homeless people to rest during those same years.

Now, five years after the redevelopment was completed, Shipley, who himself spent two years of his life as an “urban camper,” still believes the redevelopment of Patriots Square was a selfish display of power by a non-egalitarian-minded group of out-of-town investors and city officials, who used private money to create a shiny new place and a bunch of white-collar jobs for non-Phoenicians. It is clear that Shipley still holds a grudge, and is among those who consider the redevelopment of the park into commercial space to be a capital example of the community leadership focusing on broken windows, so to speak, when a cracked foundation should be the getting the attention.

Homelessness has been criminalized in Phoenix for 20 years, Shipley said, and the use of Patriots Square by the homeless was an important part of the argument for, and implementation the criminalization. Nevertheless, making homelessness illegal does not make it go away, he said. In fact, it makes it more difficult to keep track of and provide recovery support to homeless people, and forces them to look for shelter in more hidden, often non-public places, he said.

“We know that they make money of criminalizing this community so many different ways,” Shipley said.

A United Nations Committee report recently complained of 25 different types of human rights violations occurring as a result of U.S. policy, and the list includes criminalizing the homeless. (

Shipley said he is not exactly certain about the size of the homeless population in Phoenix, but he estimated the number to be in the thousands. And where they sleep is one challenge, but what they do to evade the desert heat is another important question. Shipley said the Phoenix public libraries are a good destination for homeless people, as long as they don't sleep because there is no sleeping allowed in the library. Or if a homeless person manages to get bus fare, then he or she can ride the light rail back and forth. Or, for a few bucks, they can go sit inside and sip a drink at a fast-food restaurant like McDonald's.

Typically, the requisite that homeless people must meet in order to get welfare services is that they are “clean,” that is, not using or being under the influence of drugs, Shipley said.

If they are not clean and are turned away multiple times, then they are eventually permanently cut off, and “the pool of these people becomes more and more saturated with addicts,” he said.

“The homeless community has been stigmatized,” he said. “All of these stigmas have been lumped together and then dumped on homeless people.”

Hope springs eternal for local grassroots campaigning success, as exemplified by the municipal pension spiking initiative's presence on the 2015 ballot. There may or may not be enough logistical support to get the homelessness decriminalization initiative onto the 2015 ballot, but “there is a lot of stuff going on in the grassroots community, and can become an asset that can be rolled into another ballot initiative. I would like to believe that this will pass, and even if it does not, we will have an operation that will continue,” Shipley said. “It is not meant to solve the problem of homelessness, all it does is bring it out in the open.”

The next Vox Phoenicia organizational meeting is from noon to 2 p.m., Saturday, June 7, at First Congregational Church of Christ, 1407 N. Second Street, Phoenix. For more information visit

Chris Braswell is the managing editor of Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at
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