Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shelter from the Storm

A homeless man lays on his mattress on the floor at Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) in Phoenix Wednesday. 

Phoenix was hit by a winter storm Wednesday that brought heavy rain and unusually cold temperatures, it is the first day of what is expected to be a week of below normal temperatures. Morning lows by Friday are expected to be 15-20 degrees blow normal, normal lows for Phoenix are in the 40's but by Friday are expected to be in the 20's. Weather like this hits the homeless especially hard and shelters like CASS work hard to meet the increased demand. A spokesman for CASS said they expected to fill all of their regular shelter spaces and most of their overflow spaces every night for the next week. 

In addition to the cold weather CASS has seen demand for the services increase sixfold in the last three years as the Phoenix economy has slid into recession and the foreclosure crisis cuts through the community like a scythe. Many CASS clients now are the "new" homeless - people who used to have homes but lost their homes in the bad economy. 

There are more photos from CASS in my archive and available from ZUMA Press.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

There Goes The Neighborhood

Word broke over the weekend that Bristol Palin, America’s most famous unwed mother and spokesperson for teen abstinence (of the Palins of Wasilla, AK) bought a home in the Phoenix suburb of Maricopa. She bought this McMansion for herself and her son, Tripp. Two people in a 3,900 square foot, five bedroom, 2.5 bath and three car garage home in a town that was ground zero for America’s foreclosure crisis. She paid $172,000 cash for the home. It was built in 2006 and cost about $330,000 then. The original owners were foreclosed on and Palin bought it from North Dakota investors who picked it up cheap.
Maricopa was a small farming community until the late 1990's when land speculators starting buying up the farms and turning them into subdivisions. Maricopa’s agricultural roots are still evident. You can smell the manure perfumed air of nearby dairy farms from the front yard of Chateau de Palin. Growth in Maricopa boomed from 2002 until 2008 when the recession, foreclosure and banking crisis hit.  Since then it has had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the United States. Now investors are starting to buy foreclosed homes in Maricopa, anticipating the end of the foreclosure crisis. Homes in Maricopa are now selling for about less than half of what they cost in 2006. Bristol Palin has not commented publicly on the purchase and has not said if the home is an investment or if she plans to live in it. Now rumors are swirling that Bristol plans to attend Arizona State University later this year.
There are more photos of Palin’s new home in my archive and available from ZUMA Press

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Prayer for a Dream

It was an interesting weekend in the US Senate. First a bunch of old rich white guys voted against the DREAM Act, effectively killing it, then the same bunch of old rich white guys voted in favor of ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, ending discrimination against homosexuals in the US military. Now it looks as though Jon Stewart, host of the Daily Show, has shamed the Scrooge like Senators into reconsidering health care for 9/11 first responders. 

Two for three ain’t bad unless you’re in the group that supports the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act, which has been kicking around in Congress for almost 10 years, provides a path to citizenship for children brought to the US by their parents as undocumented immigrants. In Arizona alone, there are thousands of young people, law abiding high school students who were brought to the US by the parents when they were kids - some as infants, others as toddlers or elementary school age. Many don’t speak Spanish anymore (most, but not all, are from Latin America, including Mexico) and most have no recollection of their home country. In the eyes of the law they maybe criminals but they committed no criminal acts. They can hardly be held responsible for the actions of their parents when they were babes in arms. 

The DREAM Act stipulated that undocumented children must 1) have no criminal record, 2) graduate high school and 3) either go to college or join the military before they can apply for residency and citizenship. At one point, when John McCain was touted as a mavericky independent, McCain was an outspoken supporter of the DREAM Act. Then the country tacked a little to the right and McCain tacked a lot to the right and campaigned against the DREAM Act. In other words he flip-flopped. He was for the bill before he was against it. 

This evening there was a prayer service for the DREAM Act. About 100 people were there. I went expecting a funeral like atmosphere. This was the last best chance for the DREAM Act to pass and it didn’t. The incoming Republican dominated, Tea Party influenced, congress will almost certainly not pass it. But rather than a funeral for a DREAM, it was a celebration of the DREAM. A vow to continue the fight and energize Latino voters across the country. 

There are more photos from the DREAM Act prayer service in my archive and available from ZUMA Press.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Presidential Musings

Tis the season of the political memoir. First it was Sarah Palin stopping in Phoenix to stump on behalf of her latest tome. Today it was former President George W. Bush’s turn, hawking his memoir, Decision Points. Thousands of people, including a handful of men in uniform, showed up to get the ex-Commander in Chief’s autograph. One of the soldiers stood at attention and gave the ex-President a salute, which Bush returned. 

About 2,000 people stood in line, some for more than 5 hours, to get Dubya’s autograph in their book. I was surprised by the turnout - when his presidency ended in January 2009, most people were happy to see him go. Now it appears that a lot of folks are viewing the halcyon days of his administration through rose colored glasses. Or they just want a copy of his book. 

There are more photos of the book signing in my archive or available from ZUMA Press.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Mission of Mercy

A woman has her blood pressure checked during patient screening at a Mission of Mercy mobile medical clinic in central Phoenix.

A Mission of Mercy provides an essential service in Phoenix and the other communities it serves. The volunteer doctors and nurses that work with MOM bring free medical care to people who either don’t have health insurance or can’t afford health care. 

As Arizona’s economy has continued to swirl into recession, Mission of Mercy has seen their patient load skyrocket. Patient visits have more than doubled since 2008, and earlier this fall MOM opened their first clinic in Avondale, on the west side of Phoenix, in one of the Phoenix suburbs hit hardest by the collapse of the real estate market. 

I’ve been a photojournalist for almost 30 years. It seems like in the last three years most of what I’ve photographed is the collapse of the “American Dream” and the third worldization of America. The rich have gotten significantly richer while the working and middle class have seen their salaries stagnate or go down (in real terms, adjusted for inflation). It amazes me that a country that 40 years ago could put a man on the moon and today can find the resources to fight two wars far from our shores still can’t find a way to get health care to those who most need it. 

Mission of Mercy, and organizations like it, are providing the social safety net for more and more of our citizens. 

There are more photos from the Mission of Mercy clinic in my archive and available from ZUMA Press.