Homeless =/= Voiceless


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47-year-old fights his past

by Cassie Klapp

Lunchtime at St. Vincent de Paul on one December afternoon brought in Jack Tucker, 47, who has been in and out of jail, living uptown and downtown, and in and out of gang life. He was born in Kansas City, Mo., and raised in Los Angeles. As a kid, he was forced into the Crips gang because of the neighborhood he lived in.

“I had to fight three members to get in,” Tucker said.

Tucker said he felt pretty tough while he was involved in the gang. He said no one bothered him, including the police, and he didn’t bother anyone else.

“One time I was walking down the street with two, you know, big rifles, a 9mm right here,” he said, gesturing to the front of his pants, “and a 357 next to it.”  He said he became romantically involved with a girl who unbeknownst to him was dating the leader of another Crips sect.  At a party, he was beat up by both that sect and his own gang because of the relationship.

“I had a busted lip, my head was banged up pretty good, but somehow I got out,” Tucker said. He received treatment at the hospital and that was the end of his involvement with the Crips.

But he said that was not his last time he was involved in criminal activity. Tucker said he was wrongfully convicted of aggravated assault when a man said Tucker had attacked him with a knife. Tucker said he was just “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

He was behind juvenile-detention bars from age 14 until he turned 18. After he got out, he went to live with his mother and sister in Compton and “it didn’t work out,” Tucker said. It didn’t work out with his Auntie in downtown Los Angeles, either, so he decided to strike out on his own.

Tucker said he was sucked into what he calls “the life,” which included pimping, selling weed and stealing. He said after a while he became tired of it all and moved to Arizona to start a new life. He lived with his older brother, Thomas, bought a car, and had a construction job.

“I was straight, until I found out about this part of town,” he said. Tucker added that he was once again sucked into the life of pimping and doing drugs, getting high on cocaine now.

He lost his job, he said, and started going in and out of jail: He served four years for drug possession, was released, and then served four and a half more years for drugs. He was released but then went back behind bars for six years for armed robbery. In 1991, Tucker said, his mother died of ovarian cancer. He happened to be out of jail then, and went to see her before she died on Christmas Eve. He again was pulled back “into the mix,” and went away for three and a half years for possession of cocaine. Another release. Most recently, he said, he served a year and a half for possession of cocaine and methamphetamines.

“Just nine days ago, I died right over on First Avenue and Fillmore Street,” Tucker said. He said he died from an overdose of meth that he said was “cut” with “bath salts.” Tucker said he was rushed to the hospital and brought back to life. He said he has been clean and sober since then.

Tucker mentioned that his dad is not doing so well.

“He has a pacemaker and a bad hip and is pretty weak,” Tucker said. He said he will be on a Greyhound bus on Wednesday morning heading back to California to be with his dad and help him out.

Tucker said he hopes not to get “sucked back in” to the life he had been living through up until nine days ago.


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Kids keep spirits bright

by Cassie Klapp

A tall, dark and smiling man walks by, carrying a plateful of food. His shoulders slump slightly when he walks, and his smile has a gap in the middle. He wears a pair of small green glasses that sit on his nose and make his kind eyes appear larger than they are. He seems to know everyone in the kitchen and just by looking at him, many wouldn’t know he is homeless with 24 kids.

by Lindsay Ivins

by Lindsay Ivins

Charles Gordon, 63, grew up not too far from the St.Vincent de Paul food bank in Casa Grande. He was one of the oldest of 19 kids whom his grandmother raised on a farm. Gordon and his cousin Dennie Jean were like second mothers to the other children.

Caring for the other kids and doing everything from cooking and cleaning to sewing, milking the cow and diaper changing were among their daily tasks. Though they did so much around the house, his grandmother never let them miss a day of school. He graduated high school in 1967.

“I’m glad she forced it into me,” Gordon said.

Tragedy split the big family in all directions that same year, when his grandmother died. They spread out from Kentucky to Texas to California. Gordon moved in with his mother and was able to attend Central Arizona College. He studied business management, but then changed his focus to handling heavy equipment and received a certificate.

Another loss affected Gordon when his mother passed away from cirrhosis.

“She drank herself to death,” Gordon said. “Some people cuss their moms out and when something happens to her you’ll cry your eyes out.”

Gordon said he regrets not being able to get to know her better despite the choices she made. He said no matter what she did, he still loves her.

Gordon began working odd jobs after receiving his certificate at CAC. One job was laying roof shingles on a home. A wrong step led him sliding down the rooftop.

“I decided all I could do was jump,” Gordon said. He landed and badly damaged his back. Gordon has relied on Social Security benefits since the 1989 injury.

Throughout all of his trials and tribulations of his life, he also fathered 24 children.

“I had my first kid when I was 15,” Gordon said.

He is very fond of companionship and said he cannot wait to see his grandkids for Christmas. He half-joked part of the reason he is homeless is from getting presents for all the grandkids. He has 12 daughters and 12 sons.

Two of his daughters live in Phoenix, along with 13 of his grandchildren. He said they stay in contact. Just the other day, he gave one of his daughters money to help buy Christmas presents for the children.


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Some voices from 420 W. Watkins Road, Phoenix

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

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

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

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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Striking out on his own

by Desiree Toli

by Lindsay Ivins

by Lindsay Ivins

At the age of nine, Allen Michael Wright relocated from Ohio to Arizona with his single mother and two sisters. They left a life in Ohio full of arguments and incidents within their family in search of a new life in Arizona: A life that would eventually cause the family to split and leave Wright homeless at 24 years old in Phoenix.

When Wright, his mother and sisters boarded a Greyhound bus in 1998, he was only nine years old.  He and his family lived in a Motel 6 for some time and eventually the family was able to rent a house in Phoenix. Wright attended school and eventually graduated high school. After high school, however, he and his family began having massive arguments and disagreements over things like finances and personal choices.

“Things just started happening, there was a lot of disagreements,” he said.  “I decided to leave and find somewhere else to go, my mom wanted me to stay, but I decided to leave,” he added.

The family split and his sisters eventually settled into new relationships and his mother soon joined them. After leaving home, Wright began sleeping on the streets and park benches around the city. Soon after, he started getting into trouble and found himself in and out of jail.

“I’ve been in and out of jail for almost ten years now,” he said.

One night after leaving his sister’s house, where he parked his car that he was driving at the time, he was arrested. He spent months in jail and upon release, found his car gone.

“Things were going good, and I was hoping my stuff would still be there when I got out, but it wasn’t,” he said. Wright was released from jail ten moths ago and is currently in the process of getting his documents in order after his wallet was stolen while sleeping on a park bench one night.

“I was laying down trying to sleep and I felt something, when I woke up I checked my pockets and my wallet was gone,” he said. “I had everything in there.”

Wright is aware that he has to get a new ID, Social Security card and birth certificate, but those require money and he does not have any. In the meantime, he is doing much of nothing.

“I’ve just been lazy, I guess, I’m laid up,” he said. “I haven’t really had the motivation to get the process going, but I know I have to.”

Wright regularly sleeps on the streets outside of St. Vincent de Paul, and eats the meals they serve. When he needs a shower and clean clothes, he treks across Phoenix to his mother’s retirement community to shower and wash his clothes.

“She wants me to stay with her, but I can’t because it’s a senior-citizen complex,” he said.

Wright has sought help from numerous homeless-prevention programs. “I was in a good place and it was really good, but I was lost, confused and beat down, so I didn’t really do my best there,” he said of a previous program. “When I look back, I wish I would have done better and stayed there.”

Resigned to sleeping on the streets, Wright still struggles with the fear that stems from life on the streets. “I still be scared as hell,” he said. “I have to watch my back all the time.”

In regards to his future, Wright said that “I pray to God that I can get everything in order; to have a place to stay, regular contact with my family, good food to eat, have a shower everyday, you know, stuff like that.”


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From bad to worse

by Anne Stegen

by Lindsay Ivins

by Lindsay Ivins

Experiencing homelessness is a bad situation in itself, but one man said that the services for those living in homelessness are doing nothing to ease their lives.

Douglas Bachman, 52, found himself in Phoenix in 2008 without a home, a job, family or friends. He’s angry. He said no one helps the homeless.

He lives in a local shelter.

“It isn’t what they say it is,” Bachman said.

Bachman said the social services tell donors and contributors that conditions are nice and the resources help the clients, but in his mind it isn’t so.

Bachman said he is not satisfied with the services for people experiencing homelessness.

“I’d rather be in an alley,” he said. “It’s bad all the way around.”

Bachman said he has slept on shelter floors, and seen toilets filled to the top with feces.

“It’s like jail or prison,” he said.

If Bachman were in charge, things would be different. He would improve services, screen clients and give out more bus passes for homeless job seekers.

Bachman said he would improve the laundry services, the showers and the bathrooms.

by Lindsay Ivins

by Lindsay Ivins

Bachman worked as a painter, but he said he couldn’t find work in Arizona without certification. Certification, Bachman said, requires education that is above what he has. Allen said he could not get the education without a paying job.

Bachman said that shelters give no incentive for people.

“They make you feel like you’re nothing. Worthless,” Bachman said.

But shelters are where the homeless man still chooses to be.


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‘A marathon of haircuts’ for clients at St. Vincent

by Corie Stark

by Lindsay Ivins

by Lindsay Ivins

Every three months, an ordinary meeting room at St. Vincent de Paul in downtown Phoenix transforms into a $40,000 salon, equipped with barber chairs, shampooing sinks and state-of-the art styling equipment.

That’s what needed for the organization’s quarterly “Hair-Cut-a-Thon”, according to its coordinator, Sharon Ashby-Robinson.

Sharon Ashby-Robinson has long provided her volunteer services to various charities and shelters. Her first exposure to people experiencing homelessness came from a stint with the Sisters of Mercy. Humbled by the experience overall, she was left with one haunting concern.

“I noticed how dirty they were and that was back when rednecks used to always say to them, ‘Oh, why don’t you get a job?’” she said. “I wanted it to stop.”

With the help of Christopher Becker, a head volunteer of St. Vincent de Paul at the time, Robinson launched the program in March 1992 in a small, crowded room supplied with leaky faucets and hazards.

Since its inception, the program has skyrocketed, providing over a half-million haircuts to clients in its 21 years.

Steven Jenkins, a longtime volunteer, organizes the lines leading into the salon. He gives each person a unique compliment as he or she departs with a new hairstyle and bag full of toiletries.

by Lindsay Ivins

by Lindsay Ivins

“It’s a marathon of haircuts,” he said. “The best part is everyone in that room helping doesn’t have to be there, including the barbers.”

And while they may be volunteers, each barber is licensed. Arizona Barber Styling College sends student volunteers occasionally to help with the massive influx of people. Every “Hair-Cut-a-Thon” operates from 9:45 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Anyone ranging from families of six or seven to single men comes from a trim; nobody is turned away. Whether it’s for personal reasons or to find a job, the clients of these stylists are grateful.

“I can’t afford a normal haircut right now, because I have no money to pay for it,” said Anthony Walker, as he sat in one the white cushioned chairs for the first time.

Walker lost his job after the economy spiraled downward. Originally living on the streets, he became irritated with the cold, urban landscape and sought refuge at St. Vincent.

by Lindsay Ivins

by Lindsay Ivins

“I don’t want to look like a wild animal,” he said. “I hope through this haircut I can maybe get a job.”

That’s what organizers hopes, too. Ashby-Robinson remembers helping a man who had a job interview two days after coming to St. Vincent. When it was discovered his hair was damaged by the early stages of lice, Ashby-Robinson personally helped him clean up.

A week later, he came into the shelter to thank her. Ashby-Robinson hasn’t seen him since, meaning he’s likely landed on his feet.

“Everyone is a human being. Programs like this give them a little sense of hope,” she said. “They know that somewhere, somebody cares about them.”


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Client: Family hinders research progress

by Corie Stark

by Lindsay Ivins

by Lindsay Ivins

Quantum Moreno spoke vehemently about physics, the mechanics of cold fusion and a possible cure for diabetes. But all his completed theories – large notepads filled with numbers, data and formulas – are locked away in a home to which he has no access.

In fact, Moreno hasn’t spoken to his mother in over a year. After his father passed away, he said his family ties completely soured.

“I went from living in a four-bedroom house to having nothing and being on the streets,” Moreno said.

Everything changed when his sister and mother jumbled communication at home. While his mother allowed him to return to the home, his sister had filed a “no trespassing” restraint against him.

The last time he tried to get in, police officers greeted him and carted him away. All his possessions lie within the house.

“The cops told me I couldn’t be there,” he said. “I had no idea where to go after that, and now I don’t have anything. I felt like they tricked me.”

Before his family situation turned bleak, Moreno said he worked closely with his father, a high-level engineer for various companies, including Honeywell. At one point, his dad held an esteemed position for the U.S. Department of Defense, Moreno said.

“He was like ‘Q’ from James Bond,” he said. “He knew a lot of secrets, and so do I.”

Moreno helped research projects his dad sent to him. Moreno, a Type 1 diabetic and epileptic, said he had little choice but to work from home.

“My dad and his team won so many awards,” he said. “Plaques. And I helped him with them.”

Seeing his dad’s successes fueled Moreno to personally strive toward further knowledge. He said he has spent countless hours exploring the causes of diabetes, and potential cures to the disease. Moreno confidently feels there’s a way to fix it.

Such prowess follows him in more universal subject material, too. After tinkering for months, he developed a theory known as “Guidance Omniscience Datasphere,” (GOD) which, according to Moreno, possesses the answers for everything.

“Light, speed, pressure and energy can all be harnessed through GOD,” he said.

Moreno laments the family problems that have led him to seek help from St. Vincent de Paul for the last seven months.

He said he has sought help from them longer than he expected but doesn’t know what else to do. However, he said that doesn’t break his spirit when it comes his research.

“I know I’m on the verge of something,” he said. “If I could just go home and get my papers, I could feel I could go to Arizona State University and hand them to some math professor and then I’d be set.”