Meet the Crusties

Spanging, squatting and looking for Hot Dog Jesus with Tempe's street kids

"I hate people," Greg says. "And that's deviant. I dress this way because I don't want to make deviancy an obvious statement. All I want to do is work, get old and die."

Greg says he likes travelers because they're not fake. Most nights, he opens the door to his home and lets them party there. Usually, a few crash on the carpet inside. Periodically, Greg will get pissed and shut down the scene for a few days or a couple weeks, depending on how pissed.

Tonight, though, it's on. The Dank Krew is in the house--Smokey, Wayne and Bell. And seven other kids, including Zach, Lewis and Spam, who's guzzling from a "space bag"--the silver pouch from inside a carton of box wine.

In a tribute to Radio Rahem, Spam has "LOVE" tattooed across his right knuckles, and "HATE" across his left. "I was going to get 'BEER SLUT,' but then I didn't."

Spam's 18. He grew up in Charlestown, a tough Irish 'hood outside Boston. He says his dad was a Vietnam vet who used to beat the shit out of him and his mother and washed down a handful of Trazidone with Jim Beam most evenings. Spam remembers hiding under a plastic table in the kitchen when he was 5, while his father shouted orders to take cover and return fire.

"Sometimes he drank himself back to Vietnam."
Spam's favorite city is New Orleans, but he favors Tempe as well. He was here last year this time, back when kids could sleep in the park. "Man, every day, you'd have 30 people in a circle, smoking joint after joint. Sometimes I never moved from one spot against a tree for a whole day. I'd just keep passing out; and every time I'd wake up, somebody was sticking a bottle in my face. It was that good.

"This year, I'm a little disappointed."
That's the idea, says Tempe mayor Neil Giuliano.
"Tempe may be known as a fun-filled, hospitable environment for travelers, or slackers, or whatever they call themselves," he says. "But that can change."

The urban-camping and aggressive-panhandling ordinances were only a first step, says the mayor. "We're going to pass whatever laws we need to pass to make sure we have the tools we need to manage the homeless population." However, Giuliano says he has no idea what those laws might be yet, but one thing's for sure--he does not support the idea of a homeless shelter in Tempe.

"We got attacked last year for not having a shelter, and it's like, 'Well, yeah, we can open a three-car-garage-type shelter somewhere near downtown,' but why should we? We don't have any other services for these kids nearby, and we're not going to just warehouse people."

Giuliano was on the founding board of directors for Home Base, and says he's spent several nights doing outreach. "I've put on the yellow shirt and baseball hat, and started at the bridge and worked my way down. Of course, these kids have no idea who I am. So, yes, I've talked to many of them.

"I feel badly for the real runaways--those kids who've come from abused homes, for whom the streets are a better option. But I don't feel badly at all for the pack kids, the ones that hang out in clusters around Coffee Plantation and Urban Outfitters, who have chosen to live this way and chosen to elicit fear from citizens, and I will be very aggressive in making Tempe a less friendly place for them."

Which is a flat-Earth policy, really. It may work for Tempe, but does little for society as a whole. This winter, some of the roughest kids on Mill came here from San Francisco, where they were pushed out by new mayor Willie Brown's aggressive anti-homeless policies, which include sweeping Golden Gate Park every night with helicopters and ground patrol. If Tempe runs the travelers out of town, they're not just going to fall off the end of the Earth.

"That's true," says Giuliano. "And I feel the existence of these kids is a very sad, dangerous commentary on the state of society, and the reality is if these kids stay on the streets, eventually they're going to be forced into a society where 'the system' is going to have to deal with them legally, and that's too bad, but for most of them, it's their choice. Ultimately, it's their choice."

Well, tonight, it's Spam, Smokey, Lewis and the gang's choice to get schwilly in a back room at Greg's house. In three hours, nine of them go through a four-liter space bag of rose wine and two 30-packs of Milwaukee's Best. Spam brought the space bag, and the kids pitched in change to buy the beer, which Greg traveled all the way to Mesa to purchase from an Albertsons, where it's on special for 10 bucks a 30-pack.

Greg moves the party to his front yard, gets a barrel fire going, and plugs in a portable radio. The only rock station he can get is playing Foreigner's "Double Vision."

I wanna stick around 'til I can't see straight.
Spam says he doesn't shoot heroin. "I only puff kind bud and get schwilly, but I get schwilly every day." Spam's protective of the space bag. When someone holds it for too long, he scolds them. "Schwill and pass, pussy ass!" Late in the evening, it takes Spam several repetitions of this mantra before he gets Zach's attention.

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