One of the largest homeless encampments in the U.S. continues to grow in downtown Phoenix, and a longtime sandwich shop, Old Station Subs, sits in the middle of it all. Eli Saslow writes a heartbreaking, bleak, and deeply immersive piece for The New York Times about this massive camp; the unsheltered, mentally ill, and drug-addicted people trying to survive; and the shop owners — Joe and Debbie Faillace — trying to find a way out.

He had washed 268 windows in the last month, but he was still nowhere close to saving enough for a security deposit and rent, so instead he had settled into an encampment so immense that it operated as its own separate economy. Blue fentanyl pills sold for $2, and anyone could trade a decent pair of shoes for a week’s supply of methamphetamine. A group of young men in the encampment had begun selling off pieces of the public sidewalk, charging each person $20 a week for what they called “lot rent and security.” That had seemed ridiculous to Kipp until he decided not to pay and then awoke one night to the smell of someone dousing his tent with lighter fuel.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.