Median Income

Homeless people hawk three different publications on curbs all over the Valley. What's brought about the proliferation of street sheets, and who, if anyone, benefits?

"Very often drugs or alcohol are involved somewhere," Patrick Tucker says. "They've made a poor decision. They lost their job, or got laid off. A lot of them were marginally employed to begin with. All it took was a push."

But what happens when you buy a paper? What is that vendor going to do with the money?

Same thing you do with your money--spend it on what's important at the time. When you live on the streets, squirreling cash away is risky when you could be robbed at night. So you survive, and some days are better than others. For those whose addictions have resulted in homelessness, that's often where the money goes.

"Sometimes," says Stark of the homeless consortium, "survival is a bottle of wine."Consequently, the success stories contributors would like to imagine are few and far between. Stark knows three guys who sold papers, pooled their funds, rented a room together and, with the aid of an actual address, gradually moved into more stable, higher-paying jobs and better apartments. Itwas a cooperative effort.

But more often, it seems, people become landmarks, staffing the same corner for months and leaving buyers to wonder whether they're really making any difference.

For some, earnings can be $30 to $40 on a great day, but such days are so inconsistent that extra money generally supports a "better" homeless lifestyle--maybe a guy can afford to stay in a flophouse for a night and get cleaned up, wash his clothes, smell better, sell more papers. Or maybe it just means more cigarettes, or better food.

"How somebody uses their $20 to $40 is their own business," says CASS' Dennis Burke. "But a lot of people are using their money to live more decently."

And a lot of them aren't.
"They're not getting any better," scoffs a guy who calls himself Elvis, a former homeless man who got off the streets with the help of ComCare's outpatient treatment program and now serves as a substance-abuse counselor for the agency. "They're maybe just getting a better high."

Tucker says: "I know of nobody climbing out of their situation by selling the Grapevine. I know for a fact that some people use the money just to go buy drugs; I've seen them go directly from the corner to the crack house."

And with a little Dumpster diving, maybe they're making enough to get by, long enough to fool themselves into thinking they're comfortable. But life on the streets plays strange and maddening tricks with time: Clothes age more quickly, and whatever resources a person might have, whatever goodwill remains from friends and family, rapidly erode.

Tucker: "I tell people, if you're just standing still, then you're slowly going down."Back beneath Squaw Peak Parkway, Michelle is complaining about Mike, the ex-carnival worker. The other night, the cops wrote him a ticket for selling papers in the street, and his account of that brush with the law is supposed to be in today's Grapevine, which Michelle is impatiently awaiting so she can make a sale and get her morning doughnut from the market across the street.Anyway, yesterday, Mike got into it with the Grapevine driver, and now Michelle is afraid he might have scared off the guy. On top of that, she says, Mike is always leaving his bedroll and junk over here on the north side of Thomas, and it makes the place look a mess.

"Just because I'm homeless don't mean I have to live in filth."
She sits cross-legged on the spread-out sleeping bag, blond and slightly heavy, the Stephen King paperback somebody gave her folded open to page 121. Her boyfriend Chris is all set up at the corner, a green overturned milk crate to rest on, a Big Gulp cup sitting there like a faithful dog. He's wearing the wrist brace he thinks brings him more money; Michelle thinks the brace makes no difference whatsoever. But sometimes she'll go out there with him, because a couple in need, which they are, seems to work better.

They're lucky to make $25 a day. Today's Friday, she says, payday, which means they might make enough to splurge for their weekly dinner at Jerry's restaurant a few blocks down. A decent meal, when you include tip for the waitress, runs about $12.

"I won't eat outta Dumpsters. I refuse."
She is from Utah, and Chris is from Indiana, and here they are in Phoenix, homeless. Nine weeks already. Chris lost his job, and she quit her wretched minimum-wage shift at McDonald's, which, looking back on it, was probably pretty stupid.

Her boyfriend has been pacing the sidewalk up and down without much success; only a couple of bites all morning. Of course, all they've got to peddle are old copies of View Points, and it's already ten after nine. Where are those freakin' Grapevines?Chris takes a break, returns to the makeshift camp with his Big Gulp and hunkers down on folded knees. With his long, brown hair streaming from the back of his cap, he looks like the Robert De Niro character in the movie Jackknife. His blue eyes are drenched, moist and red, as if he's been crying. He pours into the stout cup from a 32-ounce bottle of Old Milwaukee cloaked in a plastic bag.

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