is a photodocumentation of homelessness in Phoenix, AZ.
It is a photodocumentation of those humans experiencing homelessness,
as well as the individuals & small groups providing direct assistance & mutual aid to those humans.
Homelessness is a crisis for one human. The word "crisis" fails miserably, however, to describe the extent & severity of homelessness for the thousands of Valley residents, estimated at last count - a severe undercount - at over SEVEN THOUSAND. "Official" resources aimed at relieving, NOT resolving homelessness remain massively inadequate. Officially, the Valley offers up just over one thousand shelter beds. Poverty & homelessness within the United States still remain widely demonized, stereotyped, portrayed, & internalized as moral failings limited solely to an individual. Most Americans can observe, & many will admit, however, that there is a significant "homelessness problem." This "problem", however, is typically pawned off, pushed aside, & put away for large, amorphous organizations & institutions to deal with. "It is not MY problem"...so it goes.
65 to 70% of Americans, however, live paycheck-to-paycheck.
No meaningful social safety net exists in Arizona or the U.S. as a whole.
The vast majority of Americans are consequently...
ONE job loss, ONE illness, ONE injury, ONE crisis, & ONE very short step away from homelessness themselves...
myself very much included.
The direct assistance & mutual aid provided by individuals & small groups to those experiencing homelessness & near-homelessness is consequently critical, & becoming increasingly more so as economic inequality & insecurity continue to skyrocket.
Scottsdale Rd & Shea Blvd
January 13, 2022
Part of “There Is No ‘They’”
I am standing on the SE corner of Scottsdale Rd & Shea Blvd, the center of American “prosperity”, waiting for Kipp & Carolyn to arrive. It is a clear, cool, sunny Thursday morning in central Scottsdale. This is seemingly as American middle class as it gets. This is where I grew up. A parade of mostly white people in shiny newly-washed luxury cars drive by, dotted with Mexican laborers crammed into their work trucks. 3 gas stations & a London Gold jewelry store occupy the 4 corners. There are 4 signs from the City of Scottsdale, 1 on each corner, that state as an apparent matter-of-fact in bold text facing drivers-by…
“MOST PEOPLE DON’T GIVE MONEY TO PANHANDLERS. IT’S OK TO SAY ‘NO.’
GIVE INSTEAD TO AGENCIES THAT HELP THOSE IN NEED.”
On the back side of each sign, which passers, much less drivers-by, cannot see, written in fine print…the kind insultingly reminiscent of that at the bottom of deceptive corporate agreements & disclaimers…is a list of “Community Resources.”
Standing 10 feet away, I cannot read the fine print.
Already 2 other corners of the intersection are occupied by 2 middle-age men, 1 black, 1 white, holding signs asking for help. The white man’s sign reads…
“Need Help. Lost My Job. Have Children to Feed.”
He moves on within a few minutes.
The black man tidies his blue denim collared button-up shirt & jeans before the next traffic light turns red again. He waves at the onlooking drivers-by. Most look away.
It is 9:30. There is no sign of Kipp and Carolyn.
I walk across the street to the NW corner where the black man is. I purchase some Blue Diamond almonds at the Circle K gas station simply to get some change to offer to him. I am really not hungry.
The man’s name is Bruce, from Toledo, Ohio. He has lived in the Valley since he was 19. Bruce is 66 years old now. He says he has been coming out here for a few years now.
“I can’t work a 9 to 5 no more.
I have paid my dues.”
Bruce gets $800 per month from social security. His rent is $600 per month.
“How am I supposed to get by on what’s left?
So I come out here.”
Like the vast majority of Americans, including myself, Bruce is living on the edge of homelessness. He has an apartment, but just barely.
I personally make $1800/month ($17/hour) working a 40-hour week. Many make far less than I. The average price for an 800-square-foot apartment in the Valley is over $1500/month. This would leave me with $200 to $300 for all of my other expenses. The math just simply does not work. I am luckier than many. I live with my sister.
Rent prices in the Valley have increased by a staggering 30% in the last year. 2022 is expected to bring a similarly devastating increase. For the 7 out of 10 Americans already living paycheck-to-paycheck, this will mean turning desperately to family & friends, if they themselves aren’t already in a similar position. For many of those without such a minimal safety net, it will mean homelessness.
We live in an economic system that predictably & eventually forces most to the margins.
7 out of 10 Americans are, in fact, near-homeless.
7th Ave & Roosevelt
January 19, 2022
I stop in at El Norteno, a decades-long dive serving authentic Sonoran Mexican food. I order a bean, rice, & guacamole burrito for dinner. I reflexively begin to take out my debit card to pay, but quickly remember & am simultaneously reminded by the cashier…
A black homeless gentleman is sitting at one of their outdoor tables. He asks for some change. I give him what I can. I usually don’t carry cash. His name is Jayce. I shake his hand. He is wearing a second hand T-shirt…
is printed on the back. His shoes are in no shape for running, though they clearly have many miles on them. I don’t know, & likely neither does he, when his next meal will be. He sips on a travel size bottle of Smirnoff vodka while I am waiting for my order. He takes another sip before he leaves.
I should’ve bought him some food.
59th Ave & Glendale
Wednesday, January 12, 2022
Donnie arrives at the Glendale Mission like clockwork as he does every other Wednesday morning for a shower and haircut. He is wearing a beanie this morning instead of his signature flat- brimmed baseball cap. He looks plain exhausted. I half-jokingly tell him that I almost didn’t recognize him without his hat.
He says someone stole it from him.
Donnie was raised by his grandfather. He called Donnie “Babido”, slang for “something good.” His grandfather died of a stroke. “Babido” is tattooed across Donnie’s back.
I ask Donnie what he wants others to know about him….
“I don’t want to die.
I am scared to death of dying.”
Donnie is 43 years old, 1 year younger than I.
The following is a transcription…
“Everyday is like a party try to drown myself of the pain with drugs sex everything to I try to hard at everything I do I go overboard with whatever it is I do I don’t want the hurt the sadness anything scared to death of dying cause I feel I have not seen enough or get enough I never want my mind to end & want to be forever I love living I love being alive but then again I hate or not that cause hate is not good I’m dissatisfied with the life I became or the life & am showing I am so pleased when I can smile about all but still have not seen but I (…) I think never do I want to hurt others but when angry say I want them to suffer or die burn in hell I really don’t I love everybody but not everybody if you understand it is so hard to show The Real me cause it could be soft or not manly enough I will always try harder and not so hard to the point of no return I want to be forever never want to forget any and all that is in the way of (…) I give or don’t give I will not end it I can…not finish.”
59th Ave & Glendale
January 12, 2022
Although this was my first time meeting Mike, I knew I liked him right away. Down to earth, just easy to talk to. Mike began working for Cloud Covered Streets only recently. He relates that he feels a bit uneasy in his work here so far. He is so used to being busy & doing heavy manual labor in his previous jobs that simply being a calm presence, speaking with, & gently assisting those seeking CCS’s services, like him, somehow seem less valuable.
“I feel guilty. Like I should be doing something.”
Mike is currently in between jobs. A number of past & current employees have experienced homelessness in various forms.
“It depends what you mean by homeless,”
Mike replies when I ask him if he has ever experienced homelessness. It is so easy to falsely assume that unless you are living 24/7 on the streets, you don’t qualify as “homeless.” That assumption was baked right into my question. I didn’t catch it. So many people in the US ARE homeless & living out of their cars, budget hotel rooms, &/or with friends or relatives.
Mike had been married. He & his wife had a home. Mike worked as a construction painter during the week. He & his wife would do small weekend jobs together to make some extra money.
“We were doing ok.
Then she was diagnosed with cancer, & everything just fell apart.”
Mike’s wife sadly passed away, & he has been moving from place to place & job to job ever since. Medical bills forced him out of his home to an apartment. When he could no longer afford that, he began staying with family, friends, & acquaintances, wherever he could find a couch or bed.
“They gradually take everything from you.”
Mike estimates that he has had approximately 10 different jobs in the last 2 years. At the beginning of 2020 around the time Covid hit, Mike was hit on his bike, suffering multiple spinal fractures, requiring a cervical halo & both in/outpatient therapy. Like so many Americans, he continues to struggle to stay on 2 feet.
He is currently living with his sister.
I am Mike.
Scottsdale Rd & Shea Blvd
Wednesday, January 12, 2022
I stop on my way home from volunteering with Cloud Covered Streets to photograph the “No Panhandling” signs the city of Scottsdale has obnoxiously placed at every corner of the intersection at Scottsdale Rd & Shea Blvd. I despise these signs. A older man & woman occupy the SE corner right next to one such sign. Kipp is standing behind his wife Carolyn, confined to her wheelchair with their chihuahua Blanca & a sign asking for any help from the oncoming traffic in her lap.
Immediately after introducing myself, Kipp hands me a business card.
“If you know anyone that needs a window washer, I am your guy.”
The card reads “Kipp’s Window Cleaning” on one side & “A Preacher of Righteousness” on the other. I regretfully don’t know anyone at the moment with window washing needs.
“We have an apartment, but are behind on rent.”
Their 1-bedroom apartment costs $1125 per month. They have been coming out to this intersection for approximately 1 month to try to catch up, to make ends meet & keep a roof over their heads.
“Everything we made yesterday we spent on the (car) tire to get here today.”
““Pride falleth before an empty stomach,”
This is a loose reference to the Bible Proverb 16:18…
“Pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Pride precedes disaster, & arrogance precedes a fall.
I fail to see any pride or arrogance on their part. I see only an attempt to maintain a meaningful semblance of human dignity. The disaster I see is their empty stomachs, & their having to submit to begging for help from strangers. The fall is ours, a society that largely condones & legalizes stripping millions of other humans of their homes, especially when they need them the most.
“Nobody plans to be homeless,” states Kipp.
This is currently Kipp & Carolyn’s best plan to merely keep a home.
I say goodbye, & promise to meet them at 9 am tomorrow on the same corner.
The “Zone” exists as the Valley’s single largest concentration of those humans experiencing homelessness. Stretching from 7th Ave to 15th Ave between Washington St & Grant just west of downtown Phoenix, this outdoor encampment is “home” to hundreds. Those humans living here are here by necessity. However inadequate…& they are massively inadequate…several of the Valley’s largest homelessness assistance organizations are located here. The homeless have essentially been corralled here…out of site & out of mind for most…allowed to exist, but just barely. Even within this concrete encampment, the humans living here are surrounded by barb wire, wrought-iron fencing, & “No Trespassing” signs everywhere. Regular police sweeps of "unsanctioned" encampments elsewhere in the Valley continue to corral desperate humans into the “Zone.”
1 year ago, the population within this "sanctioned" encampment numbered approximately 200.
1 month ago, it numbered near 1000.
The humans living here are constantly reminded, & not so subtly, that their existence, even here, is untrustworthy & unwelcomed.
Calle Los Cerros & Baseline Rd
January 19, 2022
I stop in a parking lot between a Starbucks & In & Out Burger to photograph something that catches my eye in an abandoned shopping center parking lot.
Walking along the south side of Baseline, I pass a business center occupied by executive suites, real estate & retirement planning, & law offices. Someone is sleeping on a blanket in his/her sleeping bag on the rock landscaping in front, barely hidden from traffic’s view by the center’s low barrier walls.
The sign in front of the now-abandoned, fenced -off shopping center is covered in cloth. I remember that this was formerly a Fry’s Electronics store, a small stadium-sized retailer of cheap electronic “deals”. The cloth covering the sign has been sprayed-painted in black capital letters. It reads…
Below it in sun-faded, near-invisible letters…
“Modern day concentration camps”
After taking some photos, I walk back to my car, & stop at a Circle K gas station just down the road. While filling my tank at $3.53 per gallon, the gas pump’s video screen news reports that there is currently a supply chain shortage of baby food. This is immediately followed by an advertisement for cheap, obscenely-large fountain drinks just inside. Before I leave, a man in his early 20s working the parking lot attempts to sell me cologne. I kindly refuse. I hate cologne.
It simply covers things up.
L.A. (LOWER ARKANSAS)
Rio Salado Basin/Central Ave & Watkins
March 9, 2022
“People are really trying. There’s a lot of people out here that do not want this.
I don’t want this.”
Rick is 54. Around 2010, he began to lose a stable foothold. The family-owned company he had been working for in Washington was sold to a larger corporation.
“They fired everyone. After that, you know, everything started going downhill. I lost my wife, my family. & I started going through a lot of depression.”
He estimates that he has had approximately 20 different jobs since then, all temporary, all insecure. He has gone from living in a proper home to living out of hotels in Kentucky & Arizona, living out of a van in Arizona, sleeping at the overflow at CASS (Central AZ Shelter Services), to living in a tent in the Rio Salado Basin in South Phoenix.
He moved down into the river basin about 1 month prior with Brian, who he met at CASS, because he was tired of constantly being forced to move on, either by the police or by property owners. Brian has since gone missing.
“I just didn’t want to be bothered.”
Rick was hoping to get a full-time job at a nearby factory.
“So I'm getting ready to go down there & put in an application. My friend that works there said if you put the application now, they'll have you. You know, you'll be working the next day. Now, I’m like…’well, that's good.’ But again, I'm thinking the whole time, you know, if I go to work, come back to try to get rest & my stuff is gone, or whatever. & then I got to find a place to sleep. & my job…”
Many of those experiencing homelessness who have found themselves previously without a job, or without a car, or without a home are all too familiar with this vicious cycle.
“You got to have a vehicle to get the job. You got to have a job to get the vehicle you know, & then to get housing you got to have a job too.”
For Rick, meaningful help would be a permanent full-time factory job & a vehicle.
After this interview, I dropped Rick off at the downtown Fry’s Market to charge his phone. He messaged me later that day. His tent in the Rio Salado Basin had been slashed. Many of his belongings were missing.
He is back at CASS.
7th Ave & Glendale
March 16, 2022
I always hope & look forward to seeing Erik every other Wednesday. At first glance, he is admittedly a bit rough around the edges. He reminds me constantly of Layne Staley, the original lead singer of Alice In Chains, one of my absolute favorite vocalists & bands…definitely rough around the edges, but beautiful nonetheless. Behind the facade, Erik is kind, intelligent, & generous. I deeply admire & am consistently awed by his trust & humor in the face of more than 2 decades of being unhoused. I find this to be consistently true in many of the unhoused humans I meet.
“It’s good to be seen.”
I heard this response for the very first time in my entire life from Erik the second time I saw him after shaking his hand & telling him “It’s good to see you.” It has stuck with me ever since.
It is Erik’s refrain.
Erik shared the origin of this refrain with me yesterday. Over a 3-day span during one Thanksgiving, a holiday supposedly grounded in gratitude, kindness, & generosity, Erik was sheltered in front of a Walgreens on 19th Ave & Bethany Home. It was freezing cold.
Not a single person going in or coming out of the store, not 1, acknowledged his existence for 3 days. Not 1 hello, head nod, hand waive, or handshake.
Until 1 finally did.
Cortez Park/35th Ave & Dunlap
February 6, 2022
The $9 per hour line cook job at Burger King didn’t pan out as he had hoped. Jordan waited & was given the run around by management for 3 weeks. He now is forced to wait yet again to hear back regarding another job. He currently has enough battery & fuel for only 1 more day.
“Then I am screwed.”
Jordan estimates he has been homeless off & on approximately 20 times throughout his life. For the last 6 months, he has been living out of a retired 2002 school bus. He painted the bus black to avoid any confusion of it being a working school bus. “Family Activity” has been blacked out, but is still legible under the right light. Most of the windows have been painted over to provide him with some small semblance of privacy. During the day, Jordan parks his makeshift home at Cortez Park. At night he has been moving it to the QT at 27th Ave & Northern. The police have repeatedly tried to run him out of Cortez Park.
“They said I have worn out my welcome.”
Cortez Park is a public park.
For the majority of those experiencing homelessness, “public” means everyone except them.
Jordan is an experienced cook, significantly overqualified for any fast food line cook job. He would like to resume some meaningful work as a cook. Burger King turned him down. Without any income, Jordan is struggling to pay off the $10,000 he owes on the bus. If he cannot make his payments, he will be forced to surrender his makeshift shelter. He will be forced out onto the streets.
The little he has will be taken from him.
Jordan is also a talented artist. In his spare time, he enjoys illustration & engraving. He shares a plaque with me onto which he has engraved a portrait of his father, Charles. The plaque is a personal memorial to his father. Charles died of Covid just before Christmas last year after his assigned caregiver passed it to him.
The little he has continues to be taken from him.
9th St & Fillmore
February 9, 2022
I only met Michael very briefly. He was kind enough to let me make this portrait of him after a haircut & shower. I asked him if he had an email address or cell phone that I could use to send him his portrait. He gave me his parents’ names & home address instead.
Troy & Emma.
They still live here in the Valley.
Michael doesn’t want his portrait for himself. Michael wants his parents to have a portrait of their son.
I will make sure they receive one.
MARICOPA COUNTY CORONER'S OFFICE OFFICIAL 'TRANSIENT" DEATH COUNT 2021
Homelessness within the US continues to be predominantly viewed as a consequence of moral failings & shortcomings of the individual. Other “causes” frequently referenced are drug addiction, mental illness, & physical disability. It should be noted that these are NOT causes of homelessness. These are COMPLICATIONS that predictably increase the likelihood of & prevalence of homelessness, & that all but ensure humans afflicted by these conditions remain homeless once their homes have been taken.
The mass corporate media & our corporate-controlled government institutions also commonly attribute homelessness to amorphous, ill-defined, unaccountable, & uncontrollable phenomena such as “market forces,” “housing shortages,” & “affordable housing crises,” to name a few. This is a conscious exercise in evasion & scapegoating. The functional goal is to confuse, deactivate, & demobilize an ever-growing frustrated majority whose economic livelihood is increasingly precarious & desperate. The fact is that homelessness in Phoenix & within the US IS a predictable, systematic outcome of both its capitalist economy & conscious policy decisions that both predictably sustain & worsen the crisis.
In its 2020 reports on “Strategies to Address Homelessness” & “Housing Phoenix,” the City of Phoenix actively & profusely engages in the aforementioned exercise.
Before delving into the reports, multiple facts (largely omitted from the reports) should be noted up front…
-By economic design, a relatively small minority of the US population, the business & elite political class, dominate the national economic & political processes, & own the majority of the nation’s wealth. The vast majority of the population have minimal to no effective decision-making power, & possess a relatively miniscule proportion of the country’s wealth.
-The federal minimum wage in the US has remained $7.25/hour ($1160/month, $15,080/year) since 2009.
-The minimum wage in Arizona is $12.80/hour ($2048/month, $26,624/year).
-One-third of Arizonans & Americans earn less than $15/hour ($2400/month, $31,200/year).
-Average monthly rent in Phoenix is $1500 for 800 square feet (2022)
-Valley rent has increased 30% in the last year, & is expected to increase another 20-30% by the end of 2022.
-AZ State Law (ARS 33-1329, 2017) forbids cities to regulate rent.
-Average national rent is $1100.
-Average US household debt is $155,000.
-US worker pay has flatlined since the 1970s while worker productivity continues to increase.
If the federal minimum wage had continued to track productivity, the minimum wage would be approximately $25/hour or $50,000/year.
As a consequence, 70-80% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck.
In these 2020 reports, the City of Phoenix ADMITS the following…
-“Currently, 46% of Phoenix residents are considered extremely low income, very low income or low income; 19% are considered low to moderate income.”
-“HUD defines affordable housing as spending no more than 30% of monthly income on housing & utility payments. Households paying more than 30% of their monthly income toward housing costs are considered cost burdened.”
-”According to Housing & Urban Development’s Fair Market Rents, in AZ the cost of a two-bedroom apartment is $1097. To afford this level of rent, as well as utilities, a household would need to earn $43, 892 annually, or an hourly wage of $21.10, more than $9 above AZ’s minimum wage.
-“Currently, the AVERAGE RENT for a one-bedroom apartment in our community is approximately $1,100 per month, which is affordable to households earning at or above $53,000 annually. Our community’s average rent is NOT AFFORDABLE to residents earning minimum wage, service industry workers & many other essential workers.
As a whole, 45% OF HOUSEHOLDS earn less than $53,000 & CANNOT AFFORD this average rent amount.”
In the following (CAPITALIZED) text, please take note of the City’s use of evasive & contradictory language in its homelessness & housing reports.
-“This POPULATION BOOM has also brought with it RISING HOUSING COSTS,
creating CHALLENGES for residents both new & old.”
-“Across the nation HOUSING AFFORDABILITY is among the MOST DIFFICULT CHALLENGES facing cities. Phoenix is no exception. Ensuring that Phoenix has AFFORDABLE HOUSING OPTIONS for all who desire to call our city home is a PRIORITY for the Phoenix City Council.”
-“Non-payment of rent is the most common cause of eviction; non-payment of rent is also closely tied to a family’s income. Not surprisingly, prevailing rents that are OUT OF PROPORTION with prevailing wages create a COMPLEX MIX that can lead to evictions & ultimately homelessness. Evictions & homelessness can be devastating to health with both immediate & lasting impacts.”
-“Affordable housing is about providing MEANINGFUL ACCESS to opportunities for our RESIDENTS WHO ARE VITAL to our city. But AFFORDABILITY MEANS DIFFERENT THINGS to different people. Our goal is to provide a variety of HOUSING OPTIONS for a FULL SPECTRUM OF RESIDENTS so that ALL who desire to call Phoenix home CAN AFFORD to live here.”
The City’s supposed “solution”...
--“That is why we have committed to achieving the most ambitious housing goal
ever set by our city: creating or preserving 50,000 housing units by 2030.”
1. Prioritize New Housing in Areas of Opportunity
2. Amend Current Zoning Ordinance to Facilitate More Housing Options
3. Redevelop City-Owned Land with Mixed-Income Housing
4. Enhance Public-Private Partnerships & Increase Public, Private & Philanthropic Financing
5. Building Innovations & Cost Saving Practices
6. Increase Affordable Housing Developer Representation
7. Expand Efforts to Preserve Existing Housing Stock
8. Support Affordable Housing Legislation
9. Education Campaign
ABSOLUTELY NO MENTION is made of increasing the minimum wage to a living wage (by the City’s own admission) to $22 to $25/hour.
ABSOLUTELY NO MENTION is made of simultaneously revoking AZ State Law ARS 33-1329 & passing accompanying legislation to guarantee city residents’ democratic control of housing prices.
ABSOLUTELY NO MENTION is made of creating & supporting a worker cooperative sector within the Valley economy to effectively & massively reduce inequality & ensure democratic control of our political & economic systems.
These ARE solutions to homelessness. They are NOT complex or difficult to understand.
The reports & policies put forth by the City of Phoenix are telling DISTRACTIONS, ensuring only that homelessness will persist & worsen.