Businesses in Phoenix Struggle As Homelessness Crisis Continues


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“It’s a fire the size of my house. My customers are trying to eat, and they can’t even breathe.”

“Gunshots. Shouting. It goes on all day.”

Within a half-mile of their restaurant, the police had been called to an average of eight incidents a day in 2022. There were at least 1,097 calls for emergency medical help, 573 fights or assaults, 236 incidents of trespassing, 185 fires, 140 thefts, 125 armed robberies, 13 sexual assaults and four homicides. The remains of a 20-to-24-week-old fetus were burned and left next to a dumpster in November. Two people were stabbed to death in their tents. Sixteen others were found dead from overdoses, suicides, hypothermia or excessive heat. The city had tried to begin more extensive cleaning of the encampment, but advocates for the homeless protested that it was inhumane to move people with nowhere else to go, and in December the American Civil Liberties Union successfully filed a federal lawsuit to keep people on the street from being “terrorized” and “displaced.”

And now Joe and Debbie arrived for work on another morning and noticed a woman sprawled on the sidewalk with her face against the pavement. Debbie watched for a moment until she saw the woman roll onto her side. Maybe she was sick. Maybe she was just asleep. “Let’s give her a bit to get sorted,” Debbie said. But at lunchtime, the woman had barely moved, and two hours later she was still lying there, as the temperature climbed and Debbie began to imagine the worst possibilities. More than 1,250 homeless people had died in Maricopa County in the last two years, including hundreds from drug overdoses or heat exposure. Other nearby property owners had started calling the neighborhood Death Row.

Debbie picked up the phone and dialed 911. “I’m concerned,” she said.

“It sounds like someone who could be resting,” the dispatcher told her.

“Maybe,” Debbie said. “But I’m about to go home for the day. Can you do a wellness check?”

That would mean sending the Fire Department, and lately firefighters had been harassed or assaulted so often within the encampment that they typically responded with a police escort. The dispatcher explained that it wasn’t possible to send a full team of emergency medical workers to check on every person on the street who might in fact be taking a nap, and she suggested that Debbie approach the woman herself to ask if she needed help.


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