One business struggles to survive near the tumult of a homeless encampment


Joe Faillace at his sandwich shop.Todd Heisler/The New York Times




By guest author German Lopez from the New York Times.


‘Who’s it working for?’

Joe and Debbie Faillace opened a sandwich shop in Phoenix called Old Station Subs 37 years ago. They planned to build up the business and eventually sell it for enough money to retire. Instead, America’s homelessness crisis disrupted their dreams.
The Faillaces are not homeless themselves. But one of the country’s largest homeless encampments, with 1,100 people, has appeared within blocks of the shop. My colleague Eli Saslow spent dozens of hours with the Faillaces, their workers and customers at Old Station, which has become a front-row seat to chaos. People from the encampment will often come into the restaurant, telling fantastical stories and asking for money. A bullet recently dinged a fence nearby.


The turmoil surrounds them, Eli reported in a story published this weekend about the Faillaces’ plight. People argue, fight and deal and use drugs, much of it out in the open. The police were called an average of eight times a day within a half-mile of the restaurant last year. Hundreds of crimes were reported, including four homicides. The remains of a 20- to 24-week-old fetus were burned and left by a dumpster in November.
Now, Debbie wants out of the neighbourhood. But the Faillaces can’t find anyone to buy their restaurant, even as they’ve steadily reduced the price.


“The people suffering the most in these situations are those who are now living unsheltered in the streets,” Eli told me. “But it’s also true that the rising homeless population has had dramatic impacts across cities. It’s Joe and Debbie’s shop, where just existing within that restaurant has become incredibly difficult, but it’s also every other business in that neighborhood.”
How did this become such a big problem? The U.S. builds too little affordable housing, experts say. Rising rates of poverty, mental illness and drug addiction also play roles.


The resulting homelessness crisis has reshaped life not just in Phoenix but also other U.S. cities, where encampments have grown and become more common. “I’m realizing here lately that we’re living in a frigging hellhole,” Joe said. “Us, them, inside, outside. Who’s it working for? When does it stop?”
Read Eli’s story here — his first for The New York Times since he came from The Washington Post, where he won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of compelling narratives about going hungry in the U.S.


Related: “I get to do work that feels human.” Eli reflects on his time reporting this story.