Homeless =/= Voiceless

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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 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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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.”