Patrols of cheery individuals in bright blazers will soon leaflet downtown Phoenix announcing that the homeless are no longer with us.
These civic boosters will be hired from a security agency and their primary purpose will be to tell potential shoppers that there is no longer a threat downtown from bag ladies.
The Phoenix City Council together with downtown businesses has agreed to spend $900,000 to underwrite these pamphleteers in sports coats.
The drumbeating is part of the rebirth of downtown. Like Faneuil Hall in Boston or New York's South Street Seaport, Phoenix now has its own Rouse Company development. Last month dozens of shops, restaurants and bars opened at the Arizona Center; this beehive of mingling joins the Mercado marketplace, the Herberger Theater Center, and the Phoenix Suns Arena--still under construction--as the long-dormant downtown stages a remarkable turnaround. And yes, the area is safe from panhandlers.
The homeless have been pushed by the police and pulled by the services to a location much farther west of downtown. Consequently, transients now swarm the historic Oakland- University Park and Woodland neighborhoods, and the residents of these two districts worry about a lot more than beggars asking for spare change.
Although 60 percent of the residents of these two neighborhoods are elderly--and therefore, one might expect, peaceable--there has been an incredible amount of bloodletting with the arrival of the homeless. In 1988 the police logged eleven homicides in the Oakland-University Park district or 10 percent of all the murders in the city. To put this dry, if grisly, statistic into perspective, consider that if the same rate of execution occurred throughout Phoenix, we'd have had more than 5,000 killings that year.
And yet this incredible carnage has never attracted publicity.
In fact, to the extent the problems of the homeless are aired at all in the press it tends to be the evocative holiday stories recounting how a family crippled by unemployment or catastrophic health costs is seeking help to get back on its feet.
As long as the mayhem is confined to the neighborhoods around the CASS shelter at Ninth Avenue and Madison, it remains invisible. As long as it's safe to go Christmas shopping downtown or linger over espresso without some panhandler hitting you up for two-bits, no one seems to care if the transients are setting each other on fire in brawls over fortified wine.
Sidney Timberlake will alter that perspective.
Last Thursday a judge in Tacoma, Washington, ordered Timberlake back to Phoenix.
When he arrives in Arizona, Timberlake will have to explain how his fingerprints ended up in the home of Roxanna Jones (not her real name), a teacher in the Maricopa County Community College system.
On September 18, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Ms. Jones arrived at her home in a quiet, residential section of Central Phoenix. She filled a porcelain bowl with pasta and settled onto her couch where she fell asleep. All of the doors in her home were locked.
Shortly after midnight she was startled awake when an intruder pressed one hand against her neck and his other hand over her mouth.
When she screamed, he threatened her with a large screwdriver held against her throat and warned, "Keep quiet, senorita."
He then took rough brown gloves off his hands and began to rub her body. He reached under her green housedress and inserted his fingers into her vagina. After several minutes of assaulting her, the stranger unzipped his pants and, with only a partial erection, concluded the rape. Afterward, he calmly lighted a cigarette and then fell asleep.
The police report continues: "She then asked if she could go to the bathroom, just checking to see if he was awake or not. She stated that he immediately sat up and told her to lie down and be quiet. She stated that he started getting aggressive again and that she began talking with him again until he calmed down. She stated that she began talking with him about her personal life and that she talked for approximately two hours."
The rapist finally nodded off, again. Unsure if he was soundly asleep or not, Roxanna Jones gambled.
Slowly, quietly, she raised herself off the couch, tiptoed down the hallway and then dashed to her bedroom, slammed the door, bolted it, threw open her window and kicked out the screen. Frantically, she climbed through the opening and ran to her neighbors.
Roxanna Jones was the tenth woman, all between the ages of seventy and ninety years old, attacked by a serial rapist.
None of the victims lived anywhere near the homeless ghetto.
The police found one of the rapist's gloves, as well as Sidney Timberlake's fingerprints.
Within 48 hours, they traced Timberlake to the homeless shelter at Ninth Avenue and Madison where the suspect slept on bunk number 52.
The police executed a search warrant and seized seventeen items, including seven condoms, a nylon stocking, a spoon, a shoelace and a syringe.
At Timberlake's job, Detective Marco Ling learned that the employees had been issued brown cotton work gloves similar to the one recovered in the home of Roxanna Jones.
At the Department of Economic Security, where Timberlake picked up his food stamps, the police interviewed Betty Eberlein. She repeated a conversation she'd had with Larry Mitchell, a friend of Timberlake.
A sexual-assault supplement prepared by the officers who interviewed Eberlein concludes: "This Larry Mitchell had told Betty that Sidney was saying he had committed the rapes out of revenge but really did not say any more about the crimes. Larry also told Betty that he did not ask any more questions because Sidney is now carrying a handgun."
"Larry did say that Sidney likes to hang out under the Seventh Avenue bridge and drinks lots of beer but has not been seen around for about five days . . . "
Timberlake had not been seen because he'd fled the state.
Tracked to a home in Tacoma, Washington, Timberlake was picked up on an Arizona warrant.
Phoenix Police Sergeant John Pizzi and Detective Ling interviewed Carla Ruch, who'd had two children with Timberlake before moving to Tacoma.
She told the police she'd left Arizona because Timberlake beat her and used cocaine and heroin. After running into Timberlake at a Tacoma nightclub, she'd let him move back in with her so he could see his children.
Carla Ruch said that Timberlake spent his days on her porch "thinking," but that when the sun went down he peddled crack for the Crips in the hilltop section of Tacoma. In fact, she'd only learned of Sidney's arrest after three Crips gangsters in blue bandannas stopped by her house with the information.
In a jailhouse interview with Timberlake in Washington, Sergeant Pizzi informed the suspect that he was wanted in connection with a series of rapes of elderly women.
"No man, I didn't do that," protested Timberlake.
When informed that his fingerprints were discovered at the scene of a rape, Timberlake responded, "Man, I can't believe she is saying this. I think I better see an attorney."
Sidney Timberlake is not the first resident of a homeless shelter suspected of cutting a violent swath through sections of Phoenix miles away from the soup kitchens.
The series of ten rapes in which Timberlake is a suspect began in May. That is the same month James William Stuard, an on-again, off-again resident of the homeless shelter at Ninth Avenue and Madison, was convicted of murdering three elderly women and attempting to kill a fourth. On Friday, November 30, Stuard was sentenced to death. All of Stuard's victims lived within a stone's throw of the Phoenix Country Club.
The problems of the homeless population cannot be consigned to one neighborhood and forgotten about. And the problems are only getting worse. As winter sets in across the nation, transients seeking a milder climate migrate to Phoenix. Yet recently the Board of Adjustment ordered the CASS shelter to reduce its number of indoor beds by half.
Those who cannot sleep indoors with CASS will be forced out onto the streets of Phoenix.
There are not enough pamphlets or men in bright blazers to deal with these homeless.
To be continued
As long as it's safe to go Christmas shopping downtown without some panhandler hitting you up, no one cares if the transients are setting each other on fire.