While waiting to merge onto a local Phoenix freeway I peer off to my right, taking notice of a small American flag waving in the breeze. It isn’t so much the fluttering of “Old Glory” that garners my attention but rather from where it is flying. This flag is standing sentinel over a makeshift encampment that is semi-hidden a few hundred yards off the busy interchange. I drive to the next exit, park my car and trek half a mile to investigate the peculiar scene.
As I make my way closer, it becomes apparent my observance is what many who are homeless refer to as a “Tramp Camp”. I approach with a fair amount of caution. As a man emerges from a clumsy doorway, I announce my presence. Nervously, I mention we had previously met and reintroduce myself. I recognize this fellow from early last summer when I has handing out water not too far from this location and now hope desperately he too might find my face familiar. I took a deep breath when the man said, “Yeah, you’re that guy that was working on a book, right?” With a fair amount of relief, I then ask his name.
Stating that I had noticed his flag from the highway, I offer the uninvited knock at their door is responsive only to suggestions in curiosity. He affirms this is where he and wife, Angel call home. Angel was a bit more reluctant to speak than Roy but after 15 minutes of conversation she became less guarded, recognizing my intentions to be anything but discourteous.
For 16 years Roy and Angel had worked and lived in a decaying motel near Phoenix’s downtown district before gentrification left the couple homeless. New ownership had little regard to years of loyal service, holding other designs for the tired property. I listen empathetically as Angel and Roy share the circumstances that have ripped this family apart. Yes, the couple have 3 kids that were taken by the State and are now in the foster care system. I have heard many sad tales around homelessness but this without question pierces the soul. There are no comforting words to share. What could possibly quiet this loss? I can only lend a sympathetic ear and gentle nod.
I watch Roy fight back emotions as he brushes tears from a wife’s face. My visit, I assure Angel, is not to bring sorrow to her afternoon. She acknowledges the sentiment and offers this grief has been bottled up for quite some time and confesses it feels good to cry. She voices that being in this position leaves her in great despair, often wondering if anyone cares, really truly cares? I did my best to provide assurance that there are yet warmhearted individuals in this World.
I ask what, if anything, might I do? Angel tenderly remarks that she misses a warm shower and clean clothes. My heart nearly sank into my stomach! A warm shower? I couldn’t help but consider the things we all take for granted. Wow! I promise Roy and Angel fresh clothes, a haircut and that warm shower as soon as it can be arranged. I vow to return later in the week or at the beginning of next. They both smile and say, “You know where to find us and are welcome anytime”.
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