Proposed Gress bill seeks to strengthen drug enforcement in areas providing services to the homeless.

Arizona is currently grappling with homelessness issues, and Representative Matt Gress from Phoenix aims to address the problem by taking action against drug-related crimes in areas frequented by homeless individuals.

House Bill 2782 aims to prohibit the sale or transfer of dangerous drugs or narcotic drugs within a homeless service zone. Additionally, if drug dealing occurs in one of these “drug-free” zones, the minimum and maximum sentences for such offenses would be extended by one year. Moreover, individuals found guilty would face a minimum fine of $2,000.

“This legislation represents a significant stride in the effort to combat chronic homelessness and drug-related crime, as it aims to provide effective support to Arizona’s vulnerable populations while also prioritizing public safety,” stated Gress in a press release on Tuesday. “By establishing accountability measures within homeless service zones, we can work towards safeguarding our communities from drug-related criminal activities and create a more structured and nurturing environment for those experiencing homelessness to rebuild their lives.”

Within the legislation, the zones are defined as areas within a 300-foot radius of a facility or its surrounding grounds where homeless services, including temporary housing, are offered. The providers in these zones would also be required to display signs indicating that the area is drug-free.

“We are committed to making significant changes that will enhance the quality of life in these areas, creating a safe and supportive environment for rehabilitation and support services,” affirmed the Republican. “Our objective is to assist individuals and tackle the underlying issues of homelessness, ultimately resulting in more secure and healthier communities throughout Arizona.”

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Republican Representatives Selina Bliss, Lupe Diaz, David Livingston, and Julie Willoughby are the co-sponsors of the bill.

According to LendingTree, Arizona was ranked eighth in the nation for homelessness in March 2023.

The issue of homelessness in Arizona gained national attention when Phoenix officials cleared out “The Zone,” a significant homeless encampment located near the state capitol. According to a report by The New York Times, there were concerns regarding illicit drug activity taking place within the encampment.

Gress has previously examined Arizona’s homelessness issues. In September, he chaired a House of Representatives hearing in Scottsdale where he and other lawmakers raised concerns about a hotel program for homeless individuals. The Center Square reported on the event.

“Homelessness poses a significant challenge both in terms of humanitarian concerns and public safety,” stated Gress during the discussion, highlighting the prevalence of addiction and mental health issues among those living on the streets.

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