Street Without Hope

On Madison Street, crowds of crack-addicted homeless are plaguing police and downtown businesses. But no one seems to be doing much about it.

But on Buckeye Road, drugs are far easier to find than treatment programs. She tried twice to quit on her own.

"The problem was I would always wind up going back to it," she says. "That usually happened when I was staying with people and they'd say, 'Your time is up, it's time to hit the streets.' It was always easier to be high out there than it was to face the facts. It kept my mind occupied on getting more and more and more, so I didn't have time to think about my kids."

She connected with "dates" at the intersection of 33rd Avenue and Buckeye. She camped with a friend, another prostitute, by the railroad tracks that thread behind the warehouses in the area, and sometimes with men.

Like many other homeless women and men in that area, she frequented the nearby Phoenix Rescue Mission for food, showers and respite from the streets and sun. All the while, she says, she began to feel an urgency about getting off the streets. She says she felt her time was running out, that if she remained as she was, Buckeye would be the place she would die.

Last year, an acquaintance at the Mission, which has its own treatment program for men, pointed her to another church-based organization that has a program for women. She spent more than a week at the shelter but never lucked into a slot in the program.

Back on Buckeye, she concluded that she didn't want a discipleship program that swapped drugs for God. "I really wanted to understand why I used the drugs, and why I relapsed every time I'd tried to give them up."

She continued working the street. Hoping to get arrested, she resorted to smoking crack at the bus stop on the corner of 35th Avenue and Buckeye. "I thought that going to jail was the only way I'd be able to get into a program. And I kept thinking that when I finally got arrested, I was going to ask them what took you so long? All I wanted was someone to help me. I used to pray to God for someone to just take me away."

God comes in unlikely forms on the street. In Candy's case, he showed up as Michael, a homeless man and fellow crack user who has been in and out of various treatment programs over the years.

Like many of the homeless on Madison and Buckeye, Michael shuttles between the shelter area and neighborhoods to the west. A black New Yorker with a quick mind and a muscular face showing whisps of mustache and beard, he knows the downtown homeless area well.

And many of the social service agencies know him. He has a reputation as a "bad ass" among some of them. On a recent morning in April, he'd just gotten out of Durango Jail, he says, for having trespassed at Vinnies, where he was banned from having lunch.

Yet he's also known for being willing to jump in on the side of an obvious underdog. When he first saw Candy, he recalls, she touched his weakness for damsels in distress.

"I watch people pretty closely," he says. "I don't put up with a lot of shit. And I'd been seeing Candy coming and going out by the mission for months."

He didn't know what she was up to, he recalls, but she seemed to be with different guys every time. She mentioned once that she wanted to get into rehab. "She look tired as hell. And I remember saying to myself, there's a 'lick.' They call it a lick because when a lion goes hunting, he licks. It's just like the animal world out here."

One day she arrived with a man who kept pressing her to go back out with him. "He just would not leave her alone. He basically wanted crack or sex. So when she went to the bathroom, I talked to the man. I told him to get his ass off the property before I whip him."

When Candy came out, her suitor was gone, along with her blankets. The two of them had been staying together. She told Michael she didn't have any other safe place to go. So he agreed to let her camp with him.

She told him she wanted to get into a program. So he made it his job to help her stay clean long enough--a minimum of 72 hours--to pass the entry urinalysis required by most programs.

Withdrawal from crack cocaine--unlike withdrawal from alcohol and heroin--doesn't trigger any significant physical side effects. It's an intensely psychological drug whose effects, addicts say, are more in the realm of emotions.

Candy and Michael stayed together five days. During that time, she says, Michael kept her busy in conversation and reading. "He's always got books--mostly novels--to read. He's a little bit different that way."

Their camp--several layers of blankets tucked under some trees in the corner of a parking lot off Durango--was within sight of the mission. Every morning, they woke up and went straight there and found a place to sit among the cafeteria-style tables under a large shed roof on the east side of the mission. They stayed there all day--away from the streets and drugs.

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