Here's another interesting story brought to you by our good friend Frank B. We liked it - so we thought you would too. Enjoy!
"Lay-down Tony" was the only name he would give me. “Good enough for everyone around here,” he said. “I guess it’s good enough for me.”
When I heard that the city of Phoenix was closing its only public homeless shelter, I headed downtown to interview some of the homeless and get their side of the story.
“All these people will have to sleep out in the parking lot now,” Tony said gesturing toward about 100 homeless men and women spread out around the entrance to the now closed homeless shelter. “City building inspector condemned the building, so the city had to kick us out. Wasn’t ours in the first place; belonged to the city; guess they can shut it up anytime they want.”
Tony’s an Iraq war vet who suffers from PTSD and other mental ailments. Nonetheless, he’s a lucid, sensible man who can’t seem to shake night terrors and panic attacks.
“Being homeless is not the real story around here. Every person you see," he said gesturing toward the assembled crowd of people lying, sitting, or squatting on the broken concrete parking lot surface, “had been damaged long before they found themselves with no roof to sleep under. No, these folks have histories; abusive husbands, war injuries, alcoholism, drug addiction, some just ain’t real smart, and others committed some petty crime and one thing just led to another. After what they’re already handling, getting kicked out into the parking lot is no big deal. They’ll just tough it out. That’s what they're good at; toughing it out.”
“Down in Florida,” I began, “they’re trying to make it illegal for charities to feed the homeless. Did you hear about that?” I asked Tony.
“Think I did, yeah,” he answered. “Nothing new; you see, people just want us to go away. Stop junking up the neighborhood. Stop reminding them that they’re probably only one paycheck away from moving in with us. People consider homelessness a symbol of failure. They don’t want to see failure right in front of them."
"But they don’t get it. This isn’t about failure,” he said gesturing again at the people around us. “It’s about being vulnerable. It’s about injury and disease. It’s about bad luck as often as not. When people get injured like I did, trying to do the right thing, we need to help them heal, not just pass them through the system and then ignore them and try to hide them.”
I was amazed by Tony’s insight. He was right, but not bitter about our reactions to the homeless. I sat there on that hot macadam parking lot for another hour watching some stake out a new spot, others tidy up their meager belongings or visit with their new neighbors, all taking their ever diminishing circumstances one moment at a time.
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April 28, 2015