Joe Faillace, 69, has been running the sandwich shop Old Station Subs alongside his wife, Debbie, for the last four decades. But as an epidemic of unsheltered homelessness began to overwhelm Phoenix, and many other major American downtowns, the Faillaces have been met with hundreds of people sleeping within a few blocks of Old Station. Many of them were suffering from mental illness or substance abuse, resulting in incidents such as pilfered goods and public masturbation.
On one February morning, he could see a half-dozen men pressed around a roaring fire. A young woman was lying in the middle of the street, wrapped beneath a canvas advertising banner. A man was weaving down the sidewalk in the direction of the restaurant with a saw, muttering to himself and then stopping to urinate a dozen feet from the restaurant’s outdoor tables.
“It’s the usual chaos and suffering,” Joe told Debbie over the phone. “But the restaurant’s still standing.”
As the number of people living on the streets in Phoenix more than tripled after 2016, the housing crisis landed on the doorsteps of small businesses. The businesses began hiring private security firms to guard their property and lawyers to file a lawsuit against the city for failing to manage “a great humanitarian crisis.”
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Additional production for The Sunday Read was contributed by Emma Kehlbeck, Parin Behrooz, Anna Diamond, Sarah Diamond, Jack D’Isidoro, Elena Hecht, Desiree Ibekwe, Tanya Pérez, Marion Lozano, Naomi Noury, Krish Seenivasan, Corey Schreppel, Kate Winslett and Tiana Young. Special thanks to Mike Benoist, Sam Dolnick, Laura Kim, Julia Simon, Lisa Tobin, Blake Wilson and Ryan Wegner.