Volunteers hand out clothes, respect and smiles to homeless

PHOENIX – As the sun rises on a Saturday morning, people line up at a corner lot in the shadow of the Arizona Capitol, waiting for socks, shoes and a dose of humanity.

They are among the Valley’s homeless. More than 5,700 people were considered homeless in 2016, according to a Maricopa Association of Governments report.

This day, near 12th Street and Madison Avenue, volunteers from the non-profit Project Humanities greet each person with a smile.

“They treat everybody with respect, no matter who you are, no matter what color you are,” said
Vivian Manning-Jackson, who said she often shows up for aid. The group hands out used shoes, clothing and new toiletries twice a month, on Saturdays.

Manning-Jackson picked out a blanket and new sneakers. “They always have things that are needed, the necessities,” she said.

Neal Lester, who founded Project Humanities, said people need to understand that being homeless is a situation, not a reflection of character, and that people who are homeless are as individual as people who live in houses or apartments.

Volunteers from Project Humanities hand out gently used clothing, shoes and new toiletries to those in need near a Phoenix park east of the Arizona Capitol on March 25, 2017. (Photo by Allison Gargaro/Cronkite News)

“It really does show this need for compassion and for empathy,” Lester said. It allows volunteers and others to reflect on “how we look at people and make assumptions about them without really knowing their stories.”

Donald Barber said his story is a surprising entry into being homeless when he was evicted three weeks ago.

“When I got in that line this morning after getting out of gas, I felt kind of sad, kind of miserable,” Barber said. “But this put my mind on something else you know. I am feeling good.”

MAG conducts annual counts to track homeless numbers by city, shelter use and certain types of people who are homeless, including veterans. The overall numbers have varied by only a few hundred people since 2013, said Anne Scott, a human-services planner for MAG.

“Generally we have about 6,000 homeless folks every year when we do our annual point in time count at the end of January,” Scott said. “This gives us an indication of the overall issue of the homelessness and how we are tracking year to year.”

Project Humanities meets just south of Liberty Park, near the state capitol, every other Saturday morning. Volunteers and donations are welcome. People are encouraged to contact Project Humanities on their Facebook page or on their website.

(Video by Allison Gargaro/Cronkite News)