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?

So far the Grapevine has set the pace, establishing longevity if nothing else. Scott Simons of Tempe-based SouthPrint International, which now prints all three newspapers, says it's rare for new publications to survive more than a couple of months, much less a year, as the Grapevine has done. "They've kind of beaten the odds," says Simons. And so far, the bills have been paid on time.

Homelessness, on the other hand, has become a situation so overwhelming and familiar that society has come to accept it as an unfortunate product of itself, central-city Serengetis of people without homes blending into the landscape amid dirt and grass and broken glass. It's hard to imagine how they even got there. Most have abuse problems, but though there are shelters and food lines and housing assistance and labor services, all the social entities that compose consortiums, few places offer the kind of help those people need.

"They don't need a handout," says Patrick Tucker, the Phoenix homeless advocate. "They need medical treatment. It's extremely limited. We don't even have 10 percent of what we need."Beyond programs at ComCare and Behavioral Health Services, he says, there isn't much. Most shelters are designed for single men, and only several thousand beds exist when homeless estimates are twice that.At the same time, there is a sense that the population is swelling, that the holes at the bottom of the filter are getting wider. So maybe someone buys from a homeless vendor because he fears he's a paycheck or two away from the same. Or maybe the problem is just too big to deal with and the next best thing is keeping the folks busy with a little change.But the Grapevine, Southwest Solutions, View Points, none of them is any magic carpet off the streets all by itself. Some advocates have noticed that the signs once replaced by newspaper sales are starting to reappear. "It's almost impossible to get out of here selling these papers," says Michelle, at her temporary camp underneath Squaw Peak Parkway. She's trying to coax Chris toward day labor; they've gotta get outta here.

Sometimes Jerry, the 41year-old auto mechanic, will slide on a set of cheap radio headphones and just coast along the sidewalk with his headlines. Maybe he sells a paper, maybe he doesn't. A year ago, he lost his wife in a car accident and everything was downhill afterward--his business, his health, his motivation. He can manage with his disability check, so it doesn't matter much whether he breaks any sales records, but some of these guys out here, they need the money. Their habits demand it. If there were no papers to sell, he says, they'd do whatever it took to get it.

"A lot of them get so hooked on to the alcohol and drugs that there is no way out," Jerry says. "If they shut the Grapevine down, I don't know what they're gonna do."

For now, they are all still here, a civil bunch of co-workers seeking sustenance and companionship. The Grapevine finally arrives, a half-hour late. Michelle swoops in for her supply.

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