Meet Raven, a Homeless Man With More Community Than Many of Us Have

Raven sleeps every night tucked away in an alley in East Central Phoenix.

Each morning, he grabs his bedroll and his backpack and shuffles across a quiet street to a sprawling city park.

After using the public facilities — "I don't go on the ground; I go to the bathroom in a bathroom," Raven says — he inevitably retreats to a corner of the park where a flourishing tree provides shade.

Kyle T. Webster
Raven's pal Kelly Crittenden in the park with her dogs Juno and Angelo.
Paul Rubin
Raven's pal Kelly Crittenden in the park with her dogs Juno and Angelo.

Details

Shadow Dwellers: A Series

What’s the one image you took away from the Tucson shootings? We thought so. That mugshot of Jared Loughner is haunting. And for the world, it has become the face of mental illness in Arizona. Here, we know that’s not true. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the story of what it’s like to be mentally ill in this place cannot be told in a single photograph.

Tens of thousands of seriously mentally ill people live in Arizona. Some of them look just like you.

Other stories in the series:

Tucson's Cafe 54 Is the Real Face of Mental Illness in Arizona, Not Jared Lougher, by Amy Silverman

Phoenix's Most At-Risk Homeless Find Their Way, Thanks to a Team of "Navigators", by Paul Rubin

Why Did the Arizona Department of Corrections Put a Mentally Ill Man in Cell with a Convicted Killer?, by Paul Rubin

Mental Illness Hasn't Stopped Chris Shelton from Becoming a World-Class Boxing Historian, by Paul Rubin

Jan Brewer's Response to Jared Loughner: Slash More Than 35 Million in Services from an Already Beleaguered Mental Health System, by Paul Rubin and Amy Silverman

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Raven, who declines to give his real name, has been living here for almost two years, he says, since a random city bus ride from downtown Phoenix landed him up on East Thomas Road. He says he walked south for about a mile, not knowing what he might find or where he would end up.

He bumped into the park, which includes an open softball field, a playground, picnic areas, and restrooms. 

 The park (we won't reveal its name or exact location) is Raven's living room.

When no one else is around, Raven sometimes speaks to the pigeons that keep him company in the soft grass on his corner.

Specifically, Raven knows Fireball (the reddish one), Big Pete (the stout one), Striper (colored like a skunk), and Bruce (who, frankly, looks like a million other pigeons).

Raven says that the quartet of birds often sits atop a silver metal garbage can near his sleeping spot, inside which he hides his food and belongings.

"They don't let anyone steal my shit," he says in a thick New York City accent. "I tell them, 'Youse guys are the greatest! Youse are going to get your bread today!'"

"Homelessness" is defined differently by various governmental agencies and sometimes includes people who are forced to live with others because of economic hardship, as well as those who live in shelters or on the street.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines a chronically homeless person as "an unaccompanied disabled individual who has been continuously homeless for over one year."

The National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homelessness goes a bit deeper, defining a homeless person as someone "who is not able to acquire nighttime housing or to maintain it. In large terms, it entails a category of people who, for one reason or another, do not have a home and do not have the financial prospects that will allow them to get one."

Raven fits both of those definitions.

For him, that "one reason or another" includes mental troubles, long-term alcoholism, and a lack of any family, social services, or governmental support — financial, emotional, or otherwise.

Raven is one of several hundred (no one knows exactly how many) chronically homeless men and women who live outdoors in Maricopa County on a given day.

They are true shadow dwellers.

About one-fourth of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness, according to the National Resource and Training Center on Homelessness and Mental Illness.

Officially, Raven may not yet have been deemed seriously mentally ill by the state of Arizona, though the odds are great that his palpable behavioral trouble has contributed to his longtime homelessness. 

But to just call him homeless and leave it at that is oddly misleading, even if the closest thing he has to a bed is some fallen leaves that cushion him for a few weeks in October.

Here is where Raven's story moves beyond the sadly familiar arc of the haunted and troubled who spiral into the abyss of homelessness and quiet despair.

Improbably, he has become a positive part of his park's solidly middle-class neighborhood, a gentleman who has endeared himself to many.

Raven spends endless hours at the park chatting with passersby and familiar neighbors, all of whom presumably have roofs over their heads.

"People around here have embraced Raven, and those who haven't still are able to tolerate him," says Christine Raack, one of those accepting neighbors, a married mother of a young daughter.

"Raven has become part of our community, and it's good, which is a surprise," she adds. "Some of us actually feel safer with him around all the time watching everything. He wouldn't let anything bad happen to a child or an animal in that park — ever."

If that makes it sound as if Raven is the unlikely patron saint of this urban zone, so be it — even if it's a stretch.


Raven is beyond being just quirky. At times, he slips into a dark place when the world around him — a mean-spirited city worker, the guy who doesn't pick up after his dog, the mother screaming at her young child — is simply overwhelming.

But so far, he has succeeded at remaining courteous to just about everyone who treats him and those around him with even minimal respect.

A hello or a smile usually will do it.

Raven prides himself on being hyper-vigilant in the park, like a sentry. He speaks of having recently alerted authorities to a used needle on the men's room floor, and how he told a hard-drug user to take it elsewhere.

"I used to be like a Guardian Angel when I was back east," Raven says, referring to the group of unarmed volunteers who mobilized in the late 1970s in New York City to fight crime in the subways wearing red berets and making "citizen's arrests."

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40 comments
John
John

We've helped Raven out for the last two years. Brought him some hot beef stew the other night. We aren't enabling him. In fact, I kinda admire him for not be the "freeloader" or "panhandler" type. The guy has some issues, but he doesn't force them on anybody. He just wants to live with the "don't fence me in" kind of mantra. To each his own! I've talked to him about trying to get off the street, but he his happiest here. He is probably more "free" than all of us combined.

Wayne Cain
Wayne Cain

Over the last few weeks, Paul Rubin has two penetrating, though vastly different stories. The latest was the story of Raven, which was masterfully told on Thanksgiving weekend. It truly reminded us how lucky we are to have jobs, homes, family, and our wits most always with us, Rubin's tale wasn't the usual sob story about the homless, but a masterfully told profile of this man and the people whom he has befriended and who have befriended him. Raven truly is a remarkable individual that anybody should be happy to have as a neithbor. The other story, of course, was Rubin's encyclopedic opus on the Baseline Killer. It was a different breed of cat than the Raven piece, but equally well told. I felt like I was in the mind of Goudeau, which was a frightening experience. In reading this, i recalled how terrified everygody was in Phoenix when all this was going on. I lived basically in the same neighborhood as Goudeau, and I jumped at every bump in the night back than. Anyhow, please keep this page-turners coming. These stories are what New Times does better than anybody else.

Pvtdecowski
Pvtdecowski

you want to know how ive lived in this state i swear youll love this story. whoever the editor is i want to talk . pvtdecowski@yahoo.com

Nissyrangel
Nissyrangel

This spoke volumes to me....are church started ministering to the homeless w/ just pb and J and a bottle of water as well:) and it flourished into friendships and breaking bread.

BIG RED MACHINE
BIG RED MACHINE

Even the big bad evil Hells Angels MC have toy runs to help the poor kids in the barrio and local hoods. even they have good hearts.

Shooter McGaven
Shooter McGaven

Hells angels do not have hearts, they just understand basic PR and know it looks good to do anything for kids. As a rule those dirtbags are violent criminals who spend most of the year committing felonies, making and selling meth, and basically being fuckups. Doing something decent for two hours out of the year doesn't erase that.

HIPPIE GYPSY
HIPPIE GYPSY

In the 1960s we called people like this the WOODSTOCK GENERATION OF HIPPIES or DEADHEADS = homeless hippies who followed the Grateful Dead band around the country. the hippie gypsy lifestyle it was called back then.

grump
grump

Bet it wont take long for the cops to either run this guy out of the park or arrest him.

Billy
Billy

I agree or the lawn care park guys will run him out. its never a good idea to bring attention to yourself in the media or otherwise. WHEN YOU LIVE LIKE THIS ITS BEST TO KEEP LOW PROFILE AND FLY UNDER THE RADAR OUT OF SIGHT OUT OF MIND.

Beastied42
Beastied42

Would somebody offer this guy a hot shower and a haircut? He is not being a pest. Let him have his vodka, if he can't have meds and is in a state of limbo, let him do what he can to manage his mind. When you don't have a mental illness you have no idea what it's like to manage your thoughts and emotions. The mental health system can be demeaning, but if there were someone in the area who were willing to advocate for him, he could be taken to the state mental hospital or the mental health facility in Scottsdale and be determined SMI, given the correct meds, and set up with a local facility where he can check in regularly for counseling and medications. With the SMI determination he will be able to get food stamps and quite possibly a place to stay through a few of the SMI offices that offer housing. The key to that is a physical address not a po box. DES has to have a place to send his mail. Money is tight for us all, but a phone can be purchased for 20 bucks and for $35/month he can communicate with DES, his friends and family and make appointments. For a couple hundred dollars a month he can live in an RV somewhere. There are lots of places like that in the valley. Nothing fancy and sometimes downright rediculous, but a warm shower, a fridge and a microwave make a huge difference. With some support and a little guidance he can change his situtaion even just a little bit and while he is always going to struggle, the burden can be lightened and he can find a way to earn some money for his needs and the occassional want.And for crying out loud, hook that man up with a quarter pound hot dog from Costco. That is not too much to ask for and certainly worth doing on a regular basis. If you know this man and you know who lives around the park, pull together and give him a little bit of yoursleves. Don't worry about what he'll do with money, or if he is grateful. He is offering you a simple sense of security and trying to maintain a sense of dignity and responsibility. It keeps him going. Return the favor. I live too far away and have troubles of my own, but I do know how to navigate the waters of the DES and mental health system. If anyone is willing to advocate, and drive him to appointments, and he is willing to accept the assistance and help, I will do all I can. Patience is necessary, and you have to push the beaurocracy hard to do anything, but it can be done. He needs an address!!

My email is beastied42@yahoo.com. No SPAM!! Don't be rude!!

Grubby Glen
Grubby Glen

why does he need a haircut? long hair is cool man short hair is for geeks. besides dont most popular rock stars and alot of country hick stars also have longish hair and the public and the female groupies love them.

Shooter McGaven
Shooter McGaven

Your sentiment is kind and your heart is in the right place, but ALL these services you mention already exist. Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) has everything someone would need to be safe and stop living on the streets. From dental care to medical exams, they can do it all. People must stop enabling people to live on the streets.

Buddy  Revell
Buddy Revell

so if we see you on the mean streets homeless we are not suppose to feed or talk to you shooter? you can handle it all on your own without our help?

Shooter McGaven
Shooter McGaven

Right. The 'HELP" you can give me is to point me in the direction of long term, sustainable help. How if the fuck does it change someone's situation to buy them a hotdog and pat them on the head? What changes? Instead, you can get them help by offering to call the crisis line for the county 602-222-9444, where 24/7 a crisis team can come out and help someone who wants the help. It's the give a fish, or teach someone to fish theory at work.

Art Vandalay
Art Vandalay

people should do what they want. its called free will.

John W.
John W.

I've known Raven since he came to live in our community. It was about this time in late 2009 when he showed up at the vicinity of the park and the bike path on 48th st. We went to the store and bought him some warm socks, a ski cap and some gloves. We also bought him a flashlight and some batteries as well as some canned food and crackers. I had a long talk with him and he told the same story in the article about being from back east, etc. We see him every day laughing and talking to the birds and he seems like he means no harm.

I've stopped and talked to him a few times while riding my bike and he always want money, but I won't give him any. I know where it would go. I offer him an energy bar and he refuses. He says he gets a daily meal from a local church. He gets mad that I won't give him money, but that's the way it goes. I hope he somehow finds a way to get off the street, but it seems he has found a niche here and will live in the park and the alley behind Costco for as long as he can.

Swpsychic
Swpsychic

I have been trying as hard as possible to keep from being the next Raven. My wife of 10 yrs left me while I was stuck in Calgary Alberta from a writing job that fell through. Not seeing it coming and acruing debt which was small and mushroomed from fees over a 3 yr period, I have been semi homeless - Living in several different places of my own, friends, roomate situations and a couple of stints with the ex. I have 3 PT jobs, a degree in Film an unsuccessful writing career and am 1 step away from losing my vehicle (And subsequently) my 3 driving jobs.

I require expensive meds for injuries, hiatal hernia, terrible allergies/asthma(Seasonally), high blood pressure, antidepressants and borderline diabetes. I have 2 older children in CT and a 10 yr old by my 2nd marriage. I am 58 yrs old, have never collected a check in my life, have worked 10-14 hrs a day delivering flowers, food and people(Cab), I have no health insurance, so it is hard to afford my meds. I am not yet divorced and trying to afford a BK with my ex(We're separated) so we can finally divorce and so I can get some help with food, meds and maybe section 8.

I have very bad knees and shoulder injuries from doing physical work most of my life. But I still work on my feet delivering on hard surfaces. I seldom ever complain, still have my dignity and don't like being dependent upon others as I have always worked my way through challenges. But work has slowed so much this year (I lost my place in July) that I haven't been able to make enough to get into a place to live.

So my point is - That I understand how well meaning, hard working, intelligent and educated people like myself can fall on hard times and not be able to catch up based upon the circumstances. I have bipolar syndrome, which I have always been able to control through exercise, physical work, mild antidepressants(Zoloft) and strong values.

But it is becoming increasingly more difficult to make enough to afford everything. It is embarassing for my children to see me in this weakened state. But I pray, get up every day and hit the bricks to work, find work and hopefully make a contribution and not become a burden to the system or anyone else. But it does take a psychological as well as a physical toll. I honestly don't know where to go for help as I have always been able to take care of myself(And others) my whole life. But maybe just enough to get me over this hump so I can get back into a rested state and find more meaningful and gainful employment.

mark v
mark v

here is a person who seems even if "mentally ill" a much better neighbor being better a neighbor than the ones presently who are my neighbors, drug heads and sellers of drugs, G-D only knows,if i had more $ i would consider paying the rent of such a person, since they would provide some cheerfulness and at least not have and bring the unpleasantness of drug use and sale, Casa Bonita apts yuma,arizona 5th ave apts yuma,az, drugs pests,

Dash Riprock
Dash Riprock

I need a pal like Kelly. I have no pals at all male or female. its a sad lonely world now days. none of your neighbors will wave, talk or say a simple hi anymore.

Jenny
Jenny

thanks paul. what a lovely story. humans need humans.... and dogs, too.

Sal Manti
Sal Manti

I need you Jenny so where can we meet up at? im 100% serious! are you?

Shooter McGaven
Shooter McGaven

It's nice that the neighbors mean well, but they are just enabling him staying homeless. Each item of food, each attempt to help, keeps him glued to that park, and his lifestyle. It sucks that AZ has such shitty services, but there are things in place that could help this man- if he wanted it. CASS does a great job of helping people who are homeless. The reality is that this guy wouldn't want to live a different life, as he has everything he wants or needs. Shelters have rules, and don't want people there getting drunk all day.

Best wishes to this person, and I hope the neighborhood residents figure out what they are doing is wrong- and if they truly cared about this man, they would rally behind him and encourage him to seek the help he needs and deserves.

Haole
Haole

if you wanna see a real homeless problem go to the island of Oahu Hawaii. Homeless people live in tents all around that island on the beach and beach areas even at Waikiki beach. I live there and its unbelievable. check it on on you tube. type in homelessness in Hawaii and look at all the homeless living in tents right on the beach all over the island. they are everywhere here.

Jim
Jim

the bible teaches us to feed and help the poor with no judgment.

Shooter McGaven
Shooter McGaven

The bible also says they packed two of every animal into a boat, and a bunch of other bullshit fairytales. If you just blindly give money to people who are homeless, you are doing a disservice to yourself and to them. stop it.

Shooter McGaven
Shooter McGaven

My heart is soft like my stomach. Stop being silly, this isn't about sin, it is about a dude getting drunk in the park, and no one having true compassion to challenge him into doing what he needs to do.

Shooter McGaven
Shooter McGaven

Your critical thinking skills are truly frightful. Let me recap, for those of you in the back of the class. 1. I am no better than anyone, just like everyone else. We are all just a few checks away from being on the streets, I think we'd all agree. 2. My point is not that we shouldn't care, my point is that we should care ENOUGH to get it right, and not enable someone to live a horrid life. By getting someone connected to professional services, and shelter, you are helping them start over again, and provide for ALL their needs, not just a one time thing. I can pretty much guarantee that this dude Raven will not go into shelter, because you can't drink there and get loaded. He has gotten used to living on the range, and now all his needs are met, and he drinks and does whatever whenever he wants.

So let's recap. Helping people is good, helping them in a way that teaches them to fish, is best. Nothing changes for Raven when some neighbor, out of guilt, gives him a few bucks. Nothing. He goes and buys his 40s, and that's it. Conversely, what happens if I want to take my dumb kid to the park to play. Oops, sorry we can't go in that area, the drunk guy is talking to the pigeons? Grow the fuck up guys. Give this guy help, and if he doesn't want it, don't enable him. If you feel like throwing away money, I will start a Shooter McGaven Craft Beer fund, so you can donate to me.

Jim
Jim

ATTENTION! if you see Shooter Mcgaven homeless on the mean streets to not attempt to feed him clothe him or talk to him. he is too good for our help. he is a mans man and needs no help from fellow human beings. let this man starve to death.

Guest 81
Guest 81

your heart is Hard SHOOTER so lighten up. your supposed to be your brothers keeper no matter what. let he who is without sin cast the first stone. your no better than a homeless guy is, you just think you are. if you ost your job and home ypou would be just like this guy. friendless hungry and dirty. there is an old blues song that goes ..nobody knows you when your down and out. and its the truth.

MIKE
MIKE

I can tell you have never been homeless poor and hungry. if you ever are you will love a good christian to stop by and talk to you and or give you some food. everybody gets hungry sooner or later even pompous snobs like you.

Linda Gallie
Linda Gallie

Thank you for taking the time to do this story. I live in the same neighborhood as Raven. A sweet man with a big heart! Kelly needs to be commended for the manner in which she has helped Raven. Thank you for caring!

Yo
Yo

I drive by this man a few times a week, always wondered what his story is. I won't reveal his location, but its a fairly safe area. I wish him the best, but I wish he would get help. Sadly, services for homeless mentally ill in this state have been pared back severely.

Mulletine
Mulletine

Good luck to Raven. You know, his back pack would easily accomodate one of those new mega flasks. Would it be cool to fill one up with Raven's favorite juice and give it to him for Christmas?

Margaret Barry
Margaret Barry

I know alot of people in Raven's condition. Since he has been on East Thomas Road and went South for a mile, I wondered if he has found----or if anyone told him about---RIAz (Recovery Innovations of Arizona).It is on 16th Street one block South of East Thomas Road. They should be able to help him.Good luck.Margaret Barry

ExpertShot
ExpertShot

Is this in response to the stupid and insensitive report hit job that Fox 10 ABC News did on the homeless and poor using the public libraries recently?

Sublue
Sublue

I work in a library and while we really don't mind the nice homeless people like Raven, you wouldn't believe some of the abuse and disgusting things that the more unfriendly homeless put us through. They're all different, just like us.

David
David

I want to hear more... I loved it.

none
none

He is Houseless not homeless. his home is the park and the people around the park.

 
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