The New York Times has a really good piece of journalism that looks at how homelessness, and the crime that often accompanies it, is overwhelming much of urban America, focusing on a small, family-owned sandwich shop in downtown Phoenix.
The Times recounts how Joe Faillace, the owner of Old Station Subs, "looked out the window toward Madison Street, which had become the center of one of the largest homeless encampments in the country, with as many as 1,100 people sleeping outdoors. On this 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 Joe’s restaurant with a saw, muttering to himself and then stopping to urinate a dozen feet from Joe’s outdoor tables."
Over the past three years, the Times writes, "an epidemic of unsheltered homelessness began to overwhelm Phoenix and many other major American downtowns. Cities across the West had been transformed by a housing crisis, a mental health crisis and an opioid epidemic, all of which landed at the doorsteps of small businesses already reaching a breaking point because of the pandemic."
In Phoenix, "where the number of people living on the street had more than tripled since 2016, businesses had begun 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'.
"The Faillaces had signed onto the lawsuit as plaintiffs along with about a dozen other nearby property owners. They also bought an extra mop to clean up the daily flow of human waste, replaced eight shattered windows with plexiglass, installed a wrought-iron fence around their property and continued opening their doors at exactly 8 each morning to greet the first customer of the day."
You can read the entire story here.
- KC's View:
This is a heartbreaking story that underlines the degree to which America's cities have to find a public policy solution that is compassionate to people in trouble and in need, but that remembers that people like Joe Faillace also are citizens with rights, and they ought to be able to run their businesses without feeling like they are trying to survive a war zone.
I'm sure this will devolve into a political debate, but we ought to be able to find a way to take politics out of the conversation and come up with approaches that don't hasten the unraveling of the social fabric.