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Mar 14·edited Mar 14Author

Well, this post was finally found by reddit and I've had to close the comments to only paying subscribers.

I don't really want to address their issues, because I'll let the piece speak for itself.

But the idea I unfairly targeted Phoenix by choosing the worst part of town entirely misses what I do. I don't ever stay in the touristy parts of town. I don't use cabs or cars. I walk and use public transportation, and I stay at the lowest cost motels I can find.

The part of Phoenix I stayed in, and walked, is a large part of Phoenix. It's not some weird anomaly. Just like the South Bronx is very much NYC, as is East LA, or Central Cleveland, or Northside Milwaukee, all of which I've stayed in.

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For the best.

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I knew you'd probay hate it. I have family there and have seen its dusty streets close up many times. I love the desert but Phoenix is grim.

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Excellent article. Came across it through a link from Rudy H.

My only observation is that the problems are complex and simply saying “we, for whatever reason, let this crap happen” is unhelpful. Choices both individually and collectively have consequences. The US is an empire in decline. Communities have limited resources. Drug legalization has consequences. Treatment and institutionalization costs money. As does incarceration. And as does prioritizing the rights of the individual over that of the community, particularly when the individual is making a choice that harms the community. Which applies not just to the drug addict on the streets of Phoenix, but the elected officials who prioritize their own financial interests over that of the majority of the people they are supposed to represent.

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God, dude, this one hit me like a gut punch. I realized I've been waiting and hoping for you to have a positive experience in America, and I'm still reeling from your hellish journey to the Port Authority in NYC. With this one, I'm practically shouting (at my screen), "Go to a ballgame, Chris! The Suns are doing great! Check in to the Hyatt Regency for a coupla days and get a massage!" This unflinching look you're giving at what's happening all around us, even in my little town in Oregon, is vital and important. And deeply disturbing. Anybody hearing our political candidates talking about this?

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Yes. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

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Wow, just wow. I'm currently three weeks into a stay in Valencia, Spain. Over the course of three weeks I've seen maybe a half dozen homeless people and zero drug use. And no, we aren't in the nicest, touristy part of the city. It's very working class, but even the less "nice" neighborhoods are nothing like the hell hole you described.

It's shocking how much of America is broken.

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Well said, Michael. Honestly I don’t recognise the country I used to live in and love any more.

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"It’s fascinating to listen to street users, especially those towards the bottom of the mental capacity range, regurgitate Mickey Mouse versions of modern therapy talk, which is centered with the idea of trauma. It’s become a very modern way for them to justify their behavior. It’s not my fault. It’s my past trauma speaking!"

I wonder if this is an artifact of court mandated therapy/other interactions with the therapeutic state? If you learn that talking about your trauma is incentivized, you'd do it much more often.

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Mar 4·edited Mar 4

Not having any direct personal contact with that kind of therapy, I wonder how effective it might be for some people? Even if it is a certain amount of BS, OK if it works for them .

But some of the drug addled street people I see in Oregon seem beyond much help.

The annual death rate of heroin users from overdose is about 2.5%, for meth it is about 1% but for fentanyl users it is 22%. With so many fentanyl users dying, plenty more must be moving into that life (?)

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I wouldn't read that much into it about incentives or self-justification. When you're in that state, you tend to imitate media you hear (like the woman that referenced Friends).

I used to do intakes at a homeless shelter and would often hear these sorts of fantastical stories. Some people told stories about their lives in the mob, their combat tours overseas or some sort of biblical parallel. But the stories rarely made much sense and it always reminded me of a listening to a child describe a movie. I'm sure that this guy had heard a lot about respecting the troops so made up a story about being a marine. I'd guess the most likely source for the therapy speak is social media. Eventually the feed will show you people self-diagnosing PTSD.

As an aside, it always made most uncomfortable when these fantasies centered around political narratives rather than fiction. Like when their "internal stimuli" is about illegals rather than Smelly Cat.

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What a piercing piece. As an American living in Europe, I'm often struck, every time I'm back n the US, not just by how dystopian it has become, but by how no one seems to notice it.

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Mar 4·edited Mar 4Liked by Chris Arnade

I am always astonished that Philadelphia and Phoenix have the same population but Phoenix is 4x the size in area. 4x! …. and it’s not like Philadelphia is Tokyo; a good 20% is probably park land. Great post as usual Chris. Hope you have recovered from the random virus.

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Mar 4·edited Mar 4

The idea this is a problem created from “woke leftism” is astounding to me. My parents live in a small, rural town in Texas that has many of the same problems, just on a smaller scale. This is a problem created by policies of BOTH political parties. Both red and blue states and federal governments have seriously underfunded mental healthcare for decades. It was a conservative president who forever changed the way mental healthcare is delivered, who never put a solid plan in place before gutting what existed. Lives of desperation are almost always touched by poverty. No one in this country wants to do what needs to be done to prop up children and families living in poverty. I suspect if Chris had surveyed every person he encountered, he would have discovered that the “child protective” system had been a fixture in more than half of their lives. There are no simple fixes, but a good start would be to actually protect the most vulnerable-children and the elderly.

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The problem is that our model of “mental healthcare” does not work. It is not based around integration into functional communities or discipline to correct dysfunctional behavior. It is instead based around a mix of psychobabble and powerful psychiatric drugs that induce various forms of stupor to control behavior. Politicians funding more “access to mental health care” within the current model won’t work. We have to reconsider things at a more fundamental level

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Psychiatric drugs work, so for example, they greatly decrease the chances of schizophrenics committing violent crimes, but of course, schizophrenics on the streets are not taking their medical drugs.

Marianna is wrong about this being about poverty. Japan and South Korea have more poverty than the US, to say nothing of Turkey, Vietnam and Bulgaria, and yet, the big cities in these countries do not suffer from this same problem to the same extent. Now, of course, having less poverty is always better, but the problem in the US is the libertarian culture and laws. The US needs to decentivize drug use in public, this needs to be a crime with time in prison. Addicts need to be forced to choose prison or treatment. The mentally ill with no one to care for them, need to be admitted to public hospitals. Heavy drug use needs to be stigmatized in general, the same for living on the streets. The criminal needs to go to prison. Do these things and US cities will become much cleaner.

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Mar 3·edited Mar 3

Good to have you back in action, CA. 

Your reports from places I don't want to go to in what little time I have left on earth are riveting.

This report brought to mind that once upon a time I was falling into a hell like the one you describe. But I was lucky and stumbled onto a different and far less hellish path among infinite parallel realities. 

I suspect I turned down that fork the moment I was told I must strip and be hosed down with disinfectant or I would not be allowed to sleep one night in a flop house in New Orleans, clutching my battered sneakers as my pillow so they wouldn't be stolen. 

That was when the only form of travel I could afford was hitch-hiking. Walking would have taken too long; I didn't have the money for all the meals walking requires, even when supplemented by stealing from grocery stores and sleeping on the ground.

Now I'm rich. I fly across oceans to walk from inn to inn along scenic trails. I pay local guides to explain to me--in my native language--the wonders of where I am.

Go figure.

My reality ain't nothing like the reality so many others live in. 

Chris: Each of your reports is a powerful momento mori.

Thank you.

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The things Chris describes are also present in central San Francisco, downtown Atlanta, downtown Portland, and downtown Seattle -- many U.S. cities -- but the climate and built environment of Phoenix sort of amplifies and frames them in a way that's even more jarring. As a country, we urgently need to grapple with the multitude of policy challenges identified in this piece, but even Democrats are entirely disinterested.

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Have you heard of The Zone in Phoenix? It sounds like Chris was in it, or very close to it.

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Mar 7·edited Mar 7

He was about four miles away; however, one of the effects of the clearing of the Zone has been dispersed vagrancy. Problems that used to be intensely concentrated in a few blocks between Downtown and the state capitol are now scattered more widely. That has probably led to an exacerbation of existing issues in the area described here.

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I’ve lived in Phoenix.

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In an alternate reality, he jumped in an Uber at the airport and headed straight for downtown or Arcadia or Scottsdale or Tempe like a normal visitor and had a wildly different experience. Phoenix does have a bad homeless/drug problem and you’ll definitely see it if you go to the wrong places, but this is not a problem unique to Phoenix.

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Boy, that would have made a great blog! The top 5 places in Tempe to get fresh margs and selfies in front of street art murals!

/s

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To Downtown or Tempe, he could still have taken light rail without incident. I have taken trains in both Phoenix and NYC regularly without the type of experiences the author has described in recent posts, making me wonder if he just has extraordinarily bad luck or if there is some exaggeration going on.

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Mar 4Liked by Chris Arnade

This was interesting to me because I was in the area for a walking-intensive time in January. I was visiting family in Scottsdale, about a mile from the walkable tourist reservation of Old Town Scottsdale. The sidewalks were fine, but the businesses were in stripmalls and you did get the sense that the difficult people were kept elsewhere, and of course the layout was all car-scale. At one point my mom and I took the bus west on Indian School aiming for the Heard Museum, and while the hardware was nice there was a definite sense that this was the option of last resort. My mom took the light rail away from the museum and couldn't pay ahead because the kiosks didn't work; one of them had been torched.

Interesting place for this NE quadrant guy , but your description described what I suspected I was missing. Very our grim meathook cyberpunk dystopia future.

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Mar 4Liked by Chris Arnade

Your note below on therapy speak struck a chord with me. I have given this issue a lot of thought recently when in the US so much is now called "trauma" and "PTSD"

If it helps some get through their troubles and resolve them, all the best. to them. This is a valid diagnosis for some people and I try to be sympathetic but......

"It’s fascinating to listen to street users, especially those towards the bottom of the mental capacity range, regurgitate Mickey Mouse versions of modern therapy talk, which is centered with the idea of trauma. It’s become a very modern way for them to justify their behavior. It’s not my fault. It’s my past trauma speaking!"

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I remember getting a word soup from someone obviously not well about self-esteem and their inner child in the 90s. The mental health zeitgeist will always find its way to those who need it most, where it will be transformed toward their own ends and eccentricities I suppose.

One wonders if hobos 100 years ago were complaining about access to booze in Freudian terms. Perhaps they were!

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It’s drugs and the fact that a phony lying leadership group would rather rule over Hell than fix the problem

Secure the border

Rebuild institutions to house and/incarcerate those who refuse treatment and lure others into the life

Get them off the streets for both their own benefit and for the benefit of society as a whole. With ‘freedom’ comes civic responsibility. No one has a right to make others and society as a whole miserable to satisfy their own demons

Will this ever happen? Not a chance. There is no longer a collective ‘we’

Write off those who can’t/wont be helped to at least prevent them from spreading their poison to others

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The irony is that we have already spent (and continue to spend) BILLIONS of dollars on homeless programs, drug programs, etc. — usually via a maze of overlapping and duplicative “non profits” that seem to absorb money without any meaningful impact to the population they ostensibly serve. It’s become painfully clear that the “progressive” (permissive) approaches like “housing first”, drug decriminalization/“harm reduction”, non-residential mental health care, etc. are failing badly, yet there appears to be no will to try a more structured approach.

I’m not sure why our society thinks that it’s more cruel to put someone in an institution where they can receive treatment (whether they want it or not) than it is to have them slowly killing themselves on the streets, potentially causing harm to others.

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It’s real simple: Who benefits?

Not society and not really the miserable, who are dying at very high rates. It is the purveyors of this modern snake oil empire. Countless ‘therapists’ and social workers and ‘not for intentional profits’ that thrive and expand while the ill and society suffer. We need to do better. Time for tough love and putting the rights of the many to live in a safe and clean society over the rights of those who want to pollute themselves and common areas

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I live in Phoenix and this is over the top scare tactics . Pick ANY large city in the US or Europe and if you dig deep enough you can find horrific living conditions. There is so much more to Phoenix than this slanted piece.

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Large European cities don’t have the conditions Chris described in his piece, particularly the fentanyl crisis.

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Maybe not out in the open but similar pervasive problems are there throughout Europe, including but definitely not limited to binge drinking, gambling addictions. I think Mao's point is valid that most any large city is struggling with issues regardless of how well they hidden away.

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The scale of the problems in U.S. cities — especially Phoenix — is greater than in European ones. You can look at data. Or, like Chris, just take a walk.

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Why didn’t you share your “data”? Is it from FOX NEWS?

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I moved from the Southwest to Berlin, Germany, and parts of the city absolutely do have similar conditions. The scale is smaller, but things have been deteriorating rapidly since the pandemc with a lot of meth and crack moving in and widespread homelessness.

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Because of surging rents, Berlin is experiencing a housing crisis. That said, conditions in the city do not remotely resemble Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland or San Francisco. And, when people suffer in Berlin, they have significantly more state support to lift them up and help them recover their lives and welfare.

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Anthony for fairness you should tell them that you’re a MAGA supporter

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No, Mao, I'm a center-left social democrat who supported Bernie Sanders twice. Please stop slandering me.

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Sure. Only heroin and so forth. “Nothing to see here. Move along.”

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The conditions aren’t nearly as bad as in large U.S. cities. Your comment is pure cope.

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Reading this reminded me of the old No Reservation episodes of Bourdain traveling to the southwest. I’m glad someone is telling this story.

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