It is mid-summer in Phoenix, Arizona and the weather is breathing its “hot and dry” breath on courageous victims, who dare challenge the heat advisory warnings. The trees are moaning for rain and the concrete is sweating profusely. Their union would serve the environment well, but the brown grass that stands between them refuses to give its blessing. Daily, I watch this mid-summer dream develop as if I were watching television in the comforts of my two bedroom apartment. But, I no longer have that privilege because I have been inducted into the fraternity of street people and I can only watch my so-called life from my new home’s rear view mirror.
The radio whispers that it’s 5:00pm and I’ve just realized it is too late to check into the local homeless shelter. Most likely all the beds have been given to my fellow homeless brothers and sisters that bravely waited in the heat since 3:00pm. The man in the rear view mirror grabs my attention. He looks into my eyes expecting to find an answer, but all I see is a shadow that covers my face. Who is the man in the mirror? A putrid agitation begins to scratch under my skin among other things I am sure. I raise my arm and a grotesque odor of sweat and alcohol stretch my pores and escape using my nose a hiding place. The last time I bathed was weeks ago. However, I am thankful for the local convenient store where I am able to lock the door and wash myself with paper towels and hand sanitizer. But, at the moment I can’t afford to make the trip to the convenient store that so generously allowed me a moment of reprieve from the summer heat.
The night was slowly creeping towards me and I spent the last of the change I possessed to reserve a couple of an old buddies for a few hours. Everyone else had abandoned me, including the United States Air Force, who had once promised to be a life-time friend. But, my two 40 oz. bottles of malt liquor have been with me daily. I continue to choose them over food because they ice my issues and allow me to sleep at night. I have contemplated where the time has gone. The hours and days are like oil and water. I know they are separate only because the sun and the moon freely dance behind the horizon. Time doesn’t matter to me today because I am just trying to survive.
I have always been fascinated by the homeless and their eagerness to survive by a street code. I frequented the local library to escape the angry heat of Phoenix and congregate with other homeless men and women. Once, I asked a fellow homeless man where he chose to sleep. He responded by telling me a number of horror stories that haunt the shelters that made me confident with my decision to sweat out the nights inside my car. I felt safest parked in the local Wal-Mart parking lot where I had my own personal security guard that checked on me throughout the night.
According to the recent reports from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 107,000 veterans sleep on the streets on any given night. Despite a 18% decline in the year of 2009 the question that lingers is, “How did United States Veterans, who offered their lives to America, end up living on the streets ?” It seems that the United States has forgotten it’s Veterans who once lived to keep our country safe and ignore the fact that they continue to suffer and die daily on its streets. I am one of few who have made it off the streets and into an environment with walls and a ceiling. But, I continue to struggle like many Veterans trying to make the transition into civilian society. However, I continue to be a Homeless Advocate and volunteer my time to those who need not be ignored or forgotten.