Homeless =/= Voiceless

Some voices from 420 W. Watkins Road, Phoenix

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by Antonio Cannavaro

Maratine and Jose Luis

Maratine and Jose Luis are two friends who sit together almost every day. They have similarities between their lives. Both of the men are from Mexico and both come to the shelter every day. They work in the construction industry in the Phoenix area. They both came to the United States by themselves, leaving their families back home in Mexico. Maratine left behind a wife and three children (two daughters and a son) while Jose Luis left a wife and four children behind.

Despite leaving their families, both men can easily connect with their families. Maratine calls home occasionally. He didn’t specify why he rarely goes home, even though he can call any time.

Jose Luis talks to his family regularly. He said that he last called them four days ago. Neither man would say if they were sending money back to home to their families.

Both said they left Mexico because of extremely desperate times.

“There is no money over there, man,” Jose Luis said as Maratine nodded in agreement.

Maratine said he has only been in the United States for a short time. He said he came across the border by plane just about two months ago. Jose Luis said he has been in Arizona for about 26 years. He wouldn’t say how he came to Arizona.

It was apparent who had lived in the United States longer. Maratine understood some English, but at times Jose Luis would serve as his interpreter.

Both men accepted their current situations. For now, they are construction workers in Phoenix who don’t make a lot of money and are homeless. They don’t want to return to Mexico.


Joe is originally from El Paso. He said he left the city about a month ago after a recent divorce. Most of his family lives in Arizona, he said, which explains why he left El Paso. He currently works at a body shop on Van Buren and 37th streets. This is his third time visiting the food bank.  He said he came because work is very slow and he is short on money.


Albert wore a retro Diamondbacks shirt. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He said his current situation is because of problems with drinking.

He didn’t want to go into much detail, but he said alcohol is why he comes daily. However, he described the food bank as a place that is a better environment for him than his apartment, because he’d be drinking in his apartment.

Albert said he isn’t homeless. He has an apartment that he can go back to anytime he wants.

“I choose to be here. I can go back home to my apartment (right now) and sit down and watch football,” he said. Albert added that he is optimistic about his future. He said he wants to go back to school to study psychology.


Verne has lived in Phoenix his whole life. Verne said he is basically alone except for a few of his aunts and uncles who live in the area. His immediate family has died, he said. Verne said the small check he gets “doesn’t always pay rent.”

Verne said he lived a normal middle class life before he came to the food bank.  He said he made decent pay teaching home-care aides. However, he said, as he got older his legs became very weak, a disability that would force him to stop teaching.

After he stopped teaching, he hoped to survive on disability checks. That has been a struggle. He said he has been engaged in a long court battle to increase his disability payments. He’s been denied an increase, he said, but his case is on appeal.

Verne is very accepting of where he is in life. He said he is used to being poor as he was poor as a child. He just hopes he wins his disability-check battle.


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