From the Street
It's approaching 100 degrees on an early summer's day in the desert. Triple digit temperatures aren't unusual in Phoenix but to see someone walking her streets wearing a heavy jacket and stocking cap in June is rather curious. The man is quite thin, his clothes are dirty and he looks tired and hungry. Adrian has been in Phoenix for a short time but the heavy beard and lines on his face reveal the streets to be no stranger. He has a soft and gentle spirit and shares that while from Northern California can't remember exactly where. The longer we speak it becomes increasingly apparent this 44-year-old, like too many out here, lives quietly in mental illness. I offer a list of services, water and a small amount of money to get a meal. As I reach to shake his hand Adrian would ask if he might give me a hug. Wow, imagine that, a hug! As I say goodbye I'm thoughtful Adrian will stay with me for days to come.
It's well after midnight. The late summer heat is cruel and oppressive. On one of the meanest city blocks in Phoenix sits Gina Whitefeather. "It feels like Louisiana out here! Did you go to the Trump protest?", she asks. With a wink the 72-year-old-woman went on to say, "I don't often panhandle but I made $87.00 tonight. I'm wearing this desert storm hat. I have never seen the military but I've been in combat with these streets for years."
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The streets are a dangerous and unkind place. Its inhabitants are hungry, sleep deprived, isolated, disregarded and marginalized. The average age of death for the homeless is 50 years of age. Today, housed Americans can expect to live to the age of 78.Meet Doug Atkins. This 55-year-old man from Cleveland has a colorful background; literally. In 1980 Doug graduated from Kent State with a degree in Fine Art. After furthering an education at the Art Institute of Pittsburg he enjoyed a brief career as a cartoonist and illustrator with a prominent Ohio newspaper.The recession and bouts with both depression and the bottle have left this affable personality embattled with yet another foe, the streets. “I say my prayers every day. God gives us our struggles but I refuse to give up”, says Doug.