by Corie Stark and Cassie Klapp
Residents of downtown Phoenix have likely seen a homeless person on the street –asking for a nickel or sleeping on a makeshift bed –but most people ignore him or her without a second thought.
For three years, the Society of Professional Journalists student chapter at Arizona State University have dedicated an entire Sunday in December to transform those moments of neglect and reveal the truth behind the homelessness.
By visiting St. Vincent de Paul’s family dining room in downtown Phoenix and speaking with clients, the club has given homeless people a voice to tell their stories.
The gated blue building on 420 W. Watkins Road, just past the towering buildings and blinking lights of downtown, may seems like a small institution, but SPJ ASU has discovered otherwise.
Within its walls, nearly 16,000 volunteers have come in and out over the years. Every day the charity serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Almost 10 million pounds of food feeds the clients annually.
The St. Vincent cafeteria offers an interesting scene with each and every visit. People walk in, wait and chat with each other like old chums.
Some people gobble their food like they had not eaten for a week, while others eat slowly and savor each bite. Some of the clients are not even concentrating on the food in front of them, but rather on where their belongings are in the cubbies that line the sides of the room.
Some of the faces around the room have hard lines that seem to reflect troubled lives filled with tough times. Other faces wear smiles, and the people talk and wave at others they know.
This zone is a safe haven for people from all walks of life. St. Vincent removes the insults and allow the clients to feel at home. No matter what’s going on, however, volunteers and clients brighten each others’ spirits.
Some clients revealed an optimistic view of their situations, while others exuded a feeling of frustration. Few felt they had surrendered. Whatever the attitude, many of the clients were willing, when asked, to talk and share about their triumphs, heartbreak and bad luck.