He Is Risen; They Are Not

Page 2 of 4

But there's a difference on this line. Here, it's impossible to tell whether any of them had a chance to start with.

I walk inside the shelter.
Volunteers bustle about, preparing breakfast.
I approach a man in a plaid shirt. He wears a plastic identification tag. The tag has given him a sense of authority.

"Who's running this place?" I ask.
He looks at me suspiciously. But he relents quickly. Clearly, he doesn't have that much self-confidence after all.

"Arnold runs it," he says. "I'll get him."
As he searches for Arnold, I look around the large room. There are nine ceiling fans, all running at top speed. Several dozen mattresses are piled against the back wall. This is a room in which the old men and the crippled are allowed to spend the night.

Arnold turns out to be a big man with an easy manner.
He points to a row of men with white beards and defeated faces seated at a long table that faces the door. Some are white and some are black.

"These guys are handicapped or what we call `nervous,'" Arnold says. "We got guys who get kind of touchy if you even bump up against them.

"We try to protect them. I try not to let any kids stand out there on that line, either.

"Some of the guys with jobs get to sleep inside here, too. It's not easy for them. Some don't get off their jobs until two or three in the morning. But they still have to be out of here by seven when we start to feed."

Over by the door, a shouting match has erupted.
I recognize the participants. The man with the straw-colored beard is bellowing at the black man with the bandaged hand.

The black man has returned the sunglasses. They are handsome and maybe even worth fighting for. They are prescription glasses with a deep tint and heavy frames.

The two men shout right into each other's faces. A circle of curious men has formed. The man with the beard is clearly being the aggressor now.

Arnold excuses himself.
"We really don't have things like this all that often," he says.
What happens next is the same kind of thing you see in major league baseball games. Once the antagonists realize there are sufficient forces on hand to prevent a fight, they make a big show of wanting to plunge into combat.

With Arnold--almost as big as Mean Joe Greene--in the middle, the two much smaller men lunge toward each other with gusto.

Arnold holds them both back. He warns them about the consequences of fighting in the shelter.

They walk off in different directions, muttering. There is no winner. But neither has backed down. Both have managed to save face, clearly an important thing in this society.

Arnold returns. He continues talking as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

"We'll feed them all," Arnold says. "We have plenty of food. Some will even come through twice."

His eyes are kind. He is one of them, having come out of the tents to this job, which he has held for more than a year.

Each diner carries a small cardboard plate. The first stop on the line is for oatmeal. That's followed by coffee, doughnuts, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs and oranges.

Once their trays are filled with food, the diners are hustled back out into the alley.

"We can't let them eat in here. There's just no room. We have nearly 600 people waiting on that line out there."

Outside, it's still raining. A few find shelter. Most stand in the rain and eat silently.

The amazing thing now is the silence. Most diners go off by themselves to eat in solitude. But even those who eat in groups do not talk while they eat.

Don Wheeler is in charge of the shelter. He's held the title of general manager since March 1985.

Wheeler sits in his small windowless office. He has just stuffed a large bottle of cheap wine into his desk drawer. One of the camp residents had been caught with the bottle in his possession.

There will be a hearing, Wheeler says, and then the man will be kicked out of the camp.

"This job needs a firm hand," Wheeler says. "You have to be able to recognize the cons."

Wheeler has worked in this field for 30 years, more than 25 of them with the Salvation Army, in which he was an officer.

"This is much the same kind of work," Wheeler says. "Now, however, I don't do any preaching."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Fitzpatrick