Rising Above

Starting a life

By Chelsey Heath

Fake poinsettias arranged in wicker baskets decorated the middle of large, round tables throughout the St. Vincent de Paul dining room at Central Arizona Shelter Service. The noise of conversations and volunteers cleaning up from lunch filled the room on a Sunday in early December. Alice Jackson sat by herself and had just finished her green beans and cranberry sauce.

Jackson looked more like a St. Vincent volunteer than a homeless client. She wore a decorated holiday sweater and jeans, with her dark brown hair pulled back into a tight bun. She will celebrate her 57th birthday on New Year's Day.

But Jackson said she has been homeless on and off since April 2011, when she moved from Pontiac, Mich., to Arizona. She lost her job of 13 years after requesting unpaid vacation to care of her 12 grandchildren. She was afraid without her help, they would be taken by state agencies. Jackson said her employer refused her request and fired her.

Jackson thinks everyone has his or her story, and no one gets into homelessness the same way. She said many people, like her, fell into homeless as a result of a string of bad luck.

"You'll never know it can happen to you," she said.

After losing her job and her right to care for her grandchildren, Jackson started looking for another job but "nobody was hiring." She headed for the warmer climate and more job prospects. When she first moved to Arizona, she tried to live with a friend. The friend's sister would only allow her to stay for two weeks – after that, she sought out Central Arizona Shelter Services, or CASS.

"CASS is an excellent place," she said. It helped her get back on her feet. When she first arrived, CASS agencies helped her apply for an Arizona license and get a copy of her birth certificate and Social Security card, and provided bus passes to look for a job. In just three months, Jackson found a job as a telemarketer. She moved into her own apartment in July 2011.

Shortly after, she failed to meet her quota and she was fired from the telemarketing job. She couldn't pay rent, lost her apartment and returned to CASS. Jackson said that at some point during her time in Arizona, she studied counseling at Argosy University in north Phoenix. She had to quit going when she lost her job.

Jackson said she misses her four children and her grandchildren. She had a cellphone that had pictures and their phone numbers, but it was stolen in the shelter. She has to "guess the numbers" if she wants to try to call her family.

But Jackson stays positive about her situation. She said she is just now "starting a life for me." She used to have a commercial driver's license and has experience driving busses and has thought about returning to that. On Dec. 5, she plans to start a 16-week program in the community kitchen at St. Vincent. The program teaches students culinary skills and attempts to place students in jobs after graduation. Jackson also wants to find a part-time job she can work after the class gets out at 2:30 p.m.

"You'll always find somebody who has it worse than you" at CASS, Jackson said. She should know - she will be back to St. Vincent the next day for breakfast.

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Finding faith to fight

By Daniel Escobedo

Upon first look, one would never guess that 51-year-old David Hasan has been homeless for the past five years. Hasan sat a table of the cafeteria at St. Vincent de Paul wearing a business suit paired with black-rimmed glasses, brown dress shoes and a flat cap.

"A lot of people here don't groom themselves," said Hasan. "I have to shower everyday and make sure my clothes look nice, not wrinkled. Keeping up my personal hygiene helps to keep my spirits up."

The well-groomed man said he tries to stay optimistic because he lives on the sidewalks of downtown Phoenix. At night, he sleeps under any buildings in the downtown area that may have an over-hang near the ground in order to protect him from the weather. During the day, he seeks solitude in the Phoenix Public Library.

However, Hasan said that he hasn't always lived on the streets.

He was born in Boston, Mass. on December 24, 1959 to poor parents and a house packed with six other siblings. Hasan said that things worsened for his family when he was 13-year-old and his father died, which caused him to lose all motivation he had in order to advance his life.

"When my father passed away, I felt like I was suddenly lost. I had lost my mentor. He was the only person I had around that would push me forward to keep working hard," said Hasan.

After his father's death, Hasan struggled in high school and later decided to drop out. After working numerous jobs, he decided to move to Phoenix in order to create a fresh start.

While enrolled at Phoenix College, Hasan studied nursing and got a job at the Hyatt Regency hotel. He said that he loved studying nursing because it gave him a purpose.

"I knew that when I enrolled in college, I wanted to find something that would allow me to not only make good money but also help people. It's just that I couldn't finish," said Hasan.

Hasan said he found it difficult to maintain all of his responsibilities at his job and at school, so he dropped out of Phoenix College. It was from then on that he bounced from job to job, working at places like Jack in the Box, Robinson's May and Circle K, losing hope in himself along the way.

"I finally got to this point where I lost faith in myself and I just couldn't finish anything. I worked at so many jobs, I even went to bartending school, but I just didn't feel that I could push myself to finish," said Hasan.

It was then that Hasan decided to do some soul searching and found hope in the religion of Islam. He said he feels converting to become a Muslim helps him stay disciplined and that he will have a clear guide on how to correctly live his life.

With his newfound faith, Hasan still dreams of the day when he won't be homeless, when he will be able to have a secure job that will help him pay for an apartment and have a place he can call home.

"I currently have a job application to be a security guard at the Fiesta Bowl. I'm still deciding on whether or not I'm going to apply. I know I can do it, I just need more faith in myself," he said.

Hasan said that he feels he has the potential to turn his life around and that he needs to find his lost ambition.

"I'm embarrassed to have to come here. I need to keep trying to maintain my life so that I can enjoy the great things in life," said Hasan.

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Finding the cure to homelessness

By Amanda Roberts

David Mariscal sits with his small green notebook, full of musings and notes he takes every single day.

He does this because he believes it's going to lead to the cure of his homelessness.

"I write in this everyday," said Mariscal, 38. "I believe that writing each day about why I'm homeless will help me find the cure."

Mariscal lived in Phoenix before and found himself back in the Valley of the Sun about a month ago from Albuquerque.

He likes Phoenix better than other cities because of the services and the general infrastructure of the city. "I've always had this thing of wanderlust, and I think it's a psychological or emotional thing. I think it's a learned pattern of mine," said Mariscal.

He flips through the notebook, fingers tracing the neatly penned words on the lined paper.

"I write about my days here. I'm also reading a book right now about this," he says with a faint smile.

Born in the Bay area, David never stayed long in one place. In the late '90s, he began to travel around because he wanted to see the country.

"People would tell me that I should settle down, get a job, and I didn't want that," said Mariscal. "So I would just go somewhere else."

Around the year 2000, he got into drugs. It took him four years to get clean and sober, and he got involved with Supplemental Security Income (SSI) soon after getting sober. SSI allows up to $2000 per individual.

Coming to Arizona, Mariscal now works with Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) to get himself a job. He has an interview opportunity Dec. 5 for a part-time job.

"I remember seeing a sign that said, 'jobs cure homelessness.' Maybe they do, but because of this pattern and wanderlust of mine, I haven't found my cure yet," he says. He looks back at his notebook and closes it up, sticking it beside the potted poinsettia on the table.

"I come here [St. Vincent de Paul] all the time, and it's great," he said.

Mariscal hopes in the next six months he'll have a job and a place to live. Settling in Phoenix wouldn't be too bad, he says.

He goes back to his notebook and picks up his pen.

"I really like the climate here."

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