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DIGGING DEEPER: City addressing homeless camps along Aviation Bikeway

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TUCSON (KVOA) - The City of Tucson is working to deal with the issue of homeless camps along a popular cycling path.

The bikeway that runs beside Aviation Parkway is a corridor for cyclists heading from downtown to the east side and beyond.

The bikeway is also in the Top 10 hot spots for people who are experiencing homelessness.

“Usually, you start to see more camps pop-up in in that area, and they start to congregate in that area, so that's what happened there," said Tucson Police Officer Jacob Valenzuela, a member of the department's Homeless Outreach Team, or HOT.

Concerns about homeless camps along the Aviation Bikeway are nothing new.

In fact, the Digging Deeper team found online complaints from residents dating back to 2019.

Earlier this month, the city moved in and issued a Notice to Vacate, and began cleaning up the area.

“Based on the amount of people staying there, and the fact that there were some health issues, there were some living condition issues," said Sgt. Jack Julsing, who heads up the Homeless Outreach Team. "There were some minor criminal issues, but it was enough that it was the totality of the circumstances dictated we needed to get a clean-up there because that was the right thing to do."

The process of breaking down the camps, and working on finding shelter for those living in them didn't happen overnight.

“From the time where we knew it was going to happen to the actual clean-up, it was about a month. And, we had probably been out there out the at least ten to 12 times during that month to make sure that everyone understood that it was really going to happen,” Officer Valenzuela told the Digging Deeper team.

Sgt. Julsing's team works with other city departments and social service agencies, to try and get those living along the Aviation Bikeway and elsewhere connected with whatever resources they may need.

“A lot of times, they're more than willing to take the help if it's offered to them, and then you get the other people who just refuse it," Officer Valenzuela told the Digging Deeper team.

Since the start of the pandemic, local homeless shelters have also struggled with restrictions on their capacity. That factor is making a challenging situation even more difficult for those without a place to live.

“We don't want to incarcerate. Homelessness is not a crime," said Ward 5 City Council Member, Richard Fimbres. "It's just they're just down on their luck, so we try to be as compassionate as we can, to get them better services.”

Sgt. Julsing says they will continue to monitor the situation along the Aviation Bikeway, as well as other areas in Tucson used as refuge by those who may be experiencing homelessness.

However, he adds the issue isn't just one that impacts Tucson - it's one being facing across the nation.

“Because of the situation they're in, they can come off as an annoyance, but for the most part they're very respectful; they're very kind and caring, and they're human beings just like you and me,” Sgt. Julsing said.

You can contact the City of Tucson with concerns you may have about homeless camps or other community issues via this link.

You will find more information about resources for those who may be experiencing homelessness through Old Pueblo Community Services, Pima County One Stop, and the Primavera Foundation.

Paul Birmingham

Paul Birmingham is an Investigative Producer for KVOA News 4 Tucson. He is a three time Edward R. Murrow award winner, native Tucsonan, and a proud Arizona Wildcat.

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