The ongoing flap here in the ‘hood over the growing homeless problem…ugh! How tired am I of hearing about it? Let me count the ways.
Residents here are rightfully annoyed at the encroachment of panhandlers, drug abusers, and petty thieves into one of the last marginally affordable centrally located middle-class neighborhoods. Yet an awful lot of yelling goes on, but not much gets done. The city, meanwhile, is deliberately pushing its hordes of derelicts our way, transporting them up here on the boondoggle lightrail, dumping them at the corner of Gangbanger’s Way and Conduit of Blight, and kindly providing them with a meth clinic. The loitering, filth, and scrounging around said clinic are ignored by our City Parents. As always, they appear to be more taken by the interests of moneyed, profit-seeking developers than by those of the people who live here.
Indeed, one tires. And one wonders: would it not be better to move out of this place than to risk riding it down the drain?
I find myself in, seemingly, the very same position the ex- and I fled some 35 years ago. At the time, we lived in the historic central Encanto district, in a small area now known as Willo. About 15 years earlier, we’d bought a truly beautiful house, stumbling upon it when the area was in the earliest stages of the first wave of gentrification to hit this city.
We paid $33,000 for that house. Three months after we moved in, a Realtor showed up at the front door and offered me, on the spot, $100,000 for it.
I turned him down.
We lived there for a decade and a half. I loved the house and the neighborhood and the Yuppiness of it all.
Living there was an adventure. Just like the ‘Hood, the upscale Palmcroft and the aspiring Willo areas were bordered by blight. At one point, our zip code had the highest per-capita rate of drug use in the city. Some sort of “event” was always in progress — burglaries and car chases and crashes and thisses and thattas. Shortly after we moved in, we had the Cat Burglar on the Roof. Some guy had broken into a house down the street, been surprised in the act, run up the alley, dodged into our yard, and seen the ladder still standing against the side of our house, climbed to the roof, and pulled the ladder up after him. The cops woke us, searching the yard for him. They demanded to come in and search the house, explaining that this guy’s MO was to burgle a home in such a way as to wake the homeowner, then run down to a nearby home, break in, and rape the woman he’d identified earlier as a target. At three in the morning, neither of us thought to mention the ladder…
It was an old wooden ladder that had been sitting outside in the weather, probably for decades. And it was partly rotted. DXH had used it to climb up on the roof and try to turn on the heater, but, unable to see how, had left it there for future reference. The cops didn’t see it, because it was up on top of the roof, along with the perp.
Couple hours later, after the dust had settled, the guy slid the ladder down, started to climb off the roof, and … WAM! A step broke under his weight and he went whap whap whap down to the ground.
So it went: this, as it developed, was far from a lone occurrence.
Acquiring an intelligent German shepherd went a long way toward making us feel safer (this was the dog who chased off the cat burglar who entered the house at three o’clock of another morning…the cat burglar who presumably is still running).
City leadership was doing the same damn thing then that they’re doing now: by way of urban redevelopment, they were tearing down the SROs and downtown environments where hordes of drug-addicted (and, to a larger extent in those days, alcoholic) derelicts lived. When these sorry souls were turned out of their territory, they moved into our neighborhood.
We had many more alarming guests in Encanto than we do up here, at least so far. Literally, you could not stick your head out the front door without seeing a bum stumbling up the street. They slept and defecated in our yards, and if you left your car unlocked, they’d climb into the back seat and use that as their bedroom. You could not leave anything, not so much as potted plant, outside — if you did, it would be stolen in a matter of days.
We young upwardly mobile types coped with this stuff because we loved our neighborhood, we loved our antique homes, and we loved the community. As a community, we did battle against the city and we did, at least, block the bastards from building an elevated freeway through the heart of the historic district.
But after our child was born, my husband and I began to think differently. Not only could he not attend the local public school because he didn’t know how to use a knife or a club — one public-minded couple insisted on putting their little boy in that school, where after a full year he came out unable to read at all — but we could not let him play outside. It was unsafe to do so.
There was one other little boy on the block — we carpooled to the Montessori preschool with that family. The boys were not allowed to play outdoors unless I or our neighbors’ housekeeper stood outside and guarded them at all times.
Well. Y’know, that’s not the way I grew up. When I was a little kid, we went outside and played until someone’s mom hollered out the back door that it was dinnertime. I did not believe in 1980 and do not believe now that a boy child should have his mother hanging over his shoulder every living breathing minute.
And there was a safety issue. We had experienced several colorful events, as did many people in the area. One family a half-block from our house was baking cookies while watching TV. The mother would get up from the sofa, walk into the kitchen, pull the cookie sheet out of the oven, reload it, stick it back into the oven for 15 minutes, and go back to her show. She was being watched: one of the local bums noticed this activity and also noticed she’d set her purse on the kitchen counter. When she walked out of the kitchen, he stepped into the house, grabbed her purse, and strolled off with it. Then there was the elderly woman at the end of our street, who came home from the beauty parlor one afternoon and encountered a prowler in her house; he grabbed an ax out of her garage and hacked her to death with it.
So we moved up to North Central. It was closer to the school that my husband wanted our son to attend — and in fact it was in the city’s one halfway decent public school district, so as a practical matter we could have avoided spending a king’s ransom to put him through private school. We didn’t, but at least it was a possibility. And the kid and his friends could play outdoors all by themselves. There wasn’t a bum as far as you could see.
Not so anymore.
Of course, our homeless problem has ballooned, all across the society. Part of the reason is the ballooning drug problem: we have many more people addicted to drugs than ever before. And the other large part of it was the ill-advised policy decision to shut down mental hospitals and throw people who can’t care for themselves out onto the street. This at least doubled the number of people living on the streets…and no one seems to give a damn. The white folks all move outward and outward and ever outward, and the folks left behind lack the political and economic clout to fight back.
After I divorced, I bought a house in the vicinity, so as not to be very far from my kid. And also because North Central is my stomping ground and I had no desire to take up a new life somewhere else.
Hereabouts, the neighbors squall nonstop about the vagrant drug-addicted pilfering derelicts who ride the lightrail to our area, spend the day loitering about, and then camp in the alleys and the park behind the local grade school. They do steal. They do make a mess with defecating and dumping garbage around the neighborhood. They are creepy. And one of them did jump a fence into a family’s yard, where a mother found him molesting her two small daughters. They are, in a word, threatening.
And yet the problem is nothing like what it was in Encanto. Not yet, anyhow.
Most of the bums loiter around the periphery of the neighborhood, along the main drags and in the local businesses’ parking lots. While this makes the local markets unpleasant to use — or, for women alone, basically unusable because the parking lots do not feel safe — they don’t inhabit the neighborhood streets and yards. As long as you’re a distance from a major thoroughfare, you rarely see a discomfiting character right at your house. Because our park has no water fountain or toilet, they don’t take up residence there, at least not for any length of time. They do show up in the alleys occasionally…but that is more common the closer you are to a main drag.
This is true of the ‘Hood per se. But some of the surrounding neighborhoods do have an invasion: they hang out in people’s yards, take over vacant dwellings, try to get in residents’ doors, steal any bicycle that’s left outside (even in a fenced yard), build encampments in abandoned commercial properties, harass the residents, and generally make conspicuous nuisances of themselves. Just exactly as they did in Encanto.
The fact that this state of affairs hasn’t taken hold in the central area of the ‘Hood doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. Probably it’s just a matter of time.
So…the question is: should I move?
I’m not getting younger. Within a few years, I won’t be in any physical condition to move. If I’m gonna get out of here, I’ll need to do it pretty soon. And if things get worse…we’ve already had a child molester jump a back wall. What’s next? Another ax murderer?
On the other hand: I don’t WANT to move. I love my house. I love my yard. I love the neighbors…that is, I feel the same now about my home and neighbors as I did when we lived in Encanto. And believe me: I did not want to move then and I never much cared for the ugly house or the snooty neighborhood we moved into.
So here we are…Encanto Redux.
And it has to be said: Encanto did not suffer all that much from the bum hordes. It’s now one of the most expensive districts in the city. Housing prices there are absurdly inflated.
It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the same could happen here.
Or…the area could turn, and we could all lose our shirts in the local real estate scene.
And where would I go that I can afford? My house is paid off, I’m living on peanuts, and I cannot afford a mortgage. The choices in the Phoenix area are the far east side (vast tracts of dreary Southern-California-style ticky-tacky suburbs), Scottsdale (prices out of the question, and it far out-snoots North Central), Fountain Hills (halfway to Payson…way too far out), Sun City (ugh!). That’s about it.
In search of the keyboard and some minutes for my burner phone, I went up to a shopping center in a northside suburb along Happy Valley Road, where there’s a Walmart that is radically middle class, situated in a shopping center that has every other store you might need in a parking lot that does not make you feel you need to pack heat to walk from the car to the store entrance. It’s a newer area — again, acre on acre on endlessly bladed acre of stucco houses jammed elbow-to-elbow on postage-stamp lots and…it is a vast field of white lilies.
After living in a multicultural neighborhood for so long, that place gives me the whim-whams. I spent a good two hours in that huge shopping center and did not see ONE person of color. It was a freaking field of lilies! Not even the check-out clerks or the restaurant servers were given to the duskier persuasion. Every. Single. Soul. in that place was freaking dead-white!
Between you’n’me, I find that downright creepy. I do not want to live where everybody looks just like me. I like living where a lot of different kinds of people (excepting maybe drug addicted bums?) live together and shop together and play together. Sameness is not what city living is about.
Maybe the bums are just part of life in the big city.