City of Tucson plans to cleanup homeless camp causing flooding concerns

Trashed washes become Monsoon concern
Published: Jun. 23, 2022 at 10:36 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Many living in the Flowing Wells neighborhood fear flooding could dampen their doorsteps if washes aren’t cleared out soon.

Nearly a week after concerned residents showed KOLD News 13 several riverbeds filled with trash, overgrown grass and makeshift walls blocking canals, the situation has gotten worse.

“We’ve got this nice little home that’s been added into our [mobile home] park,” said Jean Schade, pointing to a makeshift shack in the Cemetery Wash. “They like to party at night; gets good and noisy. You can’t call the police to do anything about it because they won’t do anything.”

Council Member Kevin Dahl, who represents Ward 3, is aware of the growing problem.

“People call up and say, ‘Hey, there’s another camp in my backyard, my kids are seeing horrible things, there’s needles on the ground and we need help,” Dahl said.

Dahl has been mapping the homeless camps in Flowing Wells.

Recently, his office held a community meeting for residents to voice their concerns. Nearly 80 people attended.

It’s not a crime to be homeless, however, certain behaviors that can come with homelessness are unlawful.

“We can move people out of the washes because it’s a health problem,” said Dahl. “Storms are coming and it’s dangerous to [those living in the washes]. It also causes flooding because of the material they brought into the washes; mattresses, grocery carts, all sorts of stuff. Unfortunately, it’s an elaborate process because the cleanup has to be done by a hazmat team.”

According to a spokesperson for the Tucson Department of Transportation (TDOT), crews have surveyed the Cemetery Wash near Fort Lowell Road.

Officials say Housing and Community Development workers have notified those living in the Cemetery Wash they need to vacate and have offered assistance and services. Unsheltered individuals must be given 72 hours’ notice.

On Wednesday, June 29, a Bio-One team will begin clearing the wash between Stone Avenue and Oracle Road. Officials say the cleanup will take up to three days and police officers will be on hand to ensure everything goes smoothly.

“I will definitely believe it when I see it,” said Schade, “and I will be out here to cheer them on.”

Schade says she has been asking the city to do something ever since the homeless camp popped up in March.

The president of the Flowing Wells Neighborhood Association, Kevin Daily, says there are other washes that are just as bad.

“Why not do all of it?” asked Daily. “Why would we ask volunteers to go clean up the Santa Cruz River when it can be cleaned up right here? This will all flow downstream if it doesn’t block the tunnels and cause flooding.”

“I completely understand their frustration and rage because often times my staff and I feel the same,” said Dahl. “We need more resources and we need more places for people to go. We subscribe to ‘housing first.’ We get people into housing with wrap around services like employment assistance and drug counseling. We need more opportunities for people to get immediate shelter, though. Right now, a wash gets cleaned up … and four or five months later people are back.”

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