Gress bill aims to crack down on drug enforcement in homeless service areas

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(The Center Square) – As Arizona continues to face homelessness issues, Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, is hoping to crack down on drug-related crime in areas where homeless individuals typically congregate.

House Bill 2782 would make it illegal to “sell or transfer dangerous drugs or narcotic drugs” in a homeless service zone, and would increase the minimum and maximum sentence for drug dealing by one year if it takes place in one of those “drug-free” zones, as well as impose a minimum $2,000 fine for those convicted.

“This legislation is an important step towards reducing chronic homelessness and drug-related crime, ensuring that Arizona’s vulnerable populations are effectively supported while ensuring public safety,” Gress said in a statement on Tuesday. “Establishing accountability within homeless service zones will help safeguard our communities from drug-related crime and offer a more structured and supportive environment for our homeless population to rebuild their lives.”

The legislation defines these zones as “within three hundred feet of a facility or its accompanying grounds” where homeless services, such as temporary housing, are provided. It would require these providers to also have signs that state that the area is drug-free.

“We are taking decisive action to improve the quality of life in these zones, ensuring that they are safe and conducive to rehabilitation and support services,” the Republican continued. “Our goal is to help people and address the root causes of homelessness, which ultimately leads to safer, healthier communities across Arizona.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Selina Bliss, Lupe Diaz, David Livingston, and Julie Willoughby.

In March 2023, Arizona ranked eighth nationwide in homelessness, according to LendingTree.

Concerns about Arizona’s homelessness issue became national news as the city of Phoenix cleared out “The Zone”– a large homeless encampment near the state capitol. The New York Times reported that there were concerns about illicit drug activity at the encampment.

This is not the first time Gress has scrutinized the state’s homelessness problems. He led a House of Representatives hearing in Scottsdale in September, in which he and other lawmakers questioned Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega on a hotel program for homeless individuals, The Center Square reported.

“Homelessness is a humanitarian crisis, but it’s also a public safety crisis,” Gress said at the time, referring to how many on the streets are suffering from addiction or other mental health struggles.

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