Why is Phoenix homelessness among the nation's worst? Look at what got us here

“The city has lost control.”

Those are the words of Joe Faillace, who has seen the tents and tarps of homeless people multiply around his Old Station Subs shop near the Arizona Capitol, scaring off customers and choking off business.

He told NewsNation network his restaurant might soon become yet another vacant building.

Faillace was not just expressing a local concern, but a fear intensifying in major metropolises across the United States.

The entire country, it seems like, is losing control.

There's a sense that America is 'coming apart'

It almost doesn’t matter who you ask. Americans sense that things are unraveling.

Tracking polls show that confidence in the future is scraping along at its lowest ebb in the last quarter-century. Only once in that span — right after the Great Recession — had it equaled this level of gloom.

Only 42% of us believe our children will enjoy better lives than we did, down 18 points since 2019, according to a Gallup poll.

Dysfunction is palpable. The political scientist Charles Murray began to detect the problem in demographic tables early in the last decade and described it as “Coming Apart,” what many now believe were the pre-conditions for the political upheaval that followed.

The United States is now as sharply divided politically as it was during the Vietnam War, and even deeper divisions have emerged in the economy, with the income gap between rich and poor ever widening.

Today some 2.1 million Americans bury their despair in chronic use of opioids. In 2021, more than 106,000 people in the U.S. died from drug-involved overdose, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Homelessness signals metro Phoenix's decline

Dozens of tents are seen on the outskirts of downtown Phoenix on Jan. 3, 2020.

Arizona has not escaped this pestilence.

More than 2,000 Arizonans lost their lives to opioid overdoses, as the deadly drug fentanyl cut a swath through our population. Every day, roughly five Arizonans are dying from synthetic opioids, reports the Arizona Department of Health Services.

These are not just indicators of declining health and wellbeing. They are infirmities that push people to the rock bottom of our social order — to the street.

And there is no more visible representation of our social decline than the exploding homelessness in all of our major cities.

Metro Phoenix is the nucleus of Arizona homelessness, and the situation in this state is among the worst in the country, writes Arizona Republic reporter Juliette Rihl.

A homelessness problem that grew nationally by less than 1% between 2020 and 2022, soared by 23% in Arizona, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Complex problems need everyone to solve

The problems here are multifaceted. The Arizona housing shortage is among the most acute in the country, driving up home and rental prices so they are unaffordable to lower-income earners.

NIMBY-ism (not in my backyard) is freezing out developers and distorting the free market so they aren’t building low-income housing to match the need.

Drug abuse and mental illness are robbing people of their faculties and making them incapable of productive labor. Without the means to sustain themselves, they become prisoners of the street.

As all of America looks at cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Phoenix, we see homelessness proliferating and threatening their viability.

After homeless ruling: Phoenix mayor stresses indoor solutions

These cities with each passing day are rotting from the inside.

If we are to save our own metro area, we are all going to need to contribute to solve the problem.

Everyone.

From state government to Phoenix City Hall to our bedroom communities to our churches and universities. We all need to pitch in and help.

If we don't act, homelessness will hurt us all

In the coming days, The Arizona Republic’s editorial board will explore the homeless problem in metro Phoenix, what can be done in the near future and how we ultimately triumph over it.

It won’t be easy to make progress. It will require the ingenuity of people throughout this state to change our current trajectory.

If we don’t turn this problem around it will grow larger, and we’ll lose our urban core.

The problems of privation and drug use and disease will radiate out with greater intensity to the suburbs. Social services will be overwhelmed and businesses like Joe Faillace’s will shut down.

If we have the will to take control of this problem and improve the lives of the people hurting in our urban centers, we’ll turn the barometer from social decay to social progress and start building a future we can once again believe in.

This is an opinion of The Arizona Republic's editorial board.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Phoenix homelessness is among the nation's worst. How we got here