Phoenix police will begin clearing out the residents of the Zone in downtown Phoenix this week. Have you been there? Last week I visited the Arizona State Parks office. Stretching along the sidewalk on the west side of 7th Street, the homeless encampment completely occupied the stretch of asphalt. Some encampments are enclosed by a rope with a couple of tents and a small courtyard tucked behind a wall of plastic. Local businessmen are desperate to see the encampments removed as residents of the Zone have disrupted their trade. Drug use, theft and assaults are rampant in the Zone. As a visitor you are not exempt from being approached.
Witnessing the Zone brings to mind a man, Jay Willison, who chose to leave his home and live in the forests of Northern Arizona for five years. Jay had used methamphetamines and heroin for years. He could see the deterioration in his body and mind from the drug use. He was desperate to leave behind what he called the ‘distractions,’ meaning the drugs and the friends who influenced his drug use. I cannot imagine living in a tent in sub-freezing temperatures, hauling my water from a spring a half mile away while a mountain lion wails from the cliff towering over my plastic hovel. Living in the forest, he turned back to the faith he had learned from his stepmother as a young man. As a young man, he had said he could no longer pretend and chose to live as he wished. Now, he pursued the eternal spirit he called God, seeking to find a new life within. Five years later, agents of the US Forest Service and Federal Department of Drug Enforcement forced him to leave. It is illegal to camp on federal land for more than fourteen days in the same location. You can read his story in Jaybyrd: The Hermit of Sycamore Canyon from Morten Moore Publishing.
If Jaybyrd had visited the Zone, he would have listened to the residents and quietly questioned the choices they were making. He would have seen their slacking in the shade of the few trees that line the streets as a waste of talent. The reasons the encampments have developed are complex. Social workers tell us that many of the residents choose to live on the streets. Some of the residents are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Some are mentally ill. These need to be placed in an institution where they can receive proper care. Otherwise, I don’t understand why a man or woman would choose to live on the streets rather than move into a shelter where they could take the first steps toward rebuilding their lives. But then I’ve always been a self-starter.
Thinking about the Zone and Jaybyrd, we all have distraction. I would suggest that we think about the distractions in our lives and how these influence us. We may not see how the choices we make today will influence our lives down the road. What influences you? This week, maybe, we all need to do some housekeeping and clear out what has piled up in the corners of our lives. We can look to the one who keeps faith with us, setting our lives in order.
Photo Credit: Phoenix News Times