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This Phoenix mom understands the challenges of homelessness in a way others can't

Headlines tend to focus on "The Zone" in downtown Phoenix, but challenges facing people experiencing homelessness in the Phoenix area extend beyond a few square blocks — maybe even to your neighborhood park.

And while it can be a challenge to balance empathy for others with concerns for our own personal safety, it's something we need to talk about — even though that can be hard.

Julia Fournier understands these challenges in ways many do not.

Her son, Miguel, struggles with addiction and is currently living in a shelter in Phoenix. And Fournier spends much of her time volunteering at local nonprofits that support people who are unhoused.

Fournier is street smart — but even she wasn't prepared for what happened in her park a few days ago.

Julia's essay


In America, our realities have never been more estranged. But recently, I learned about how I am linked more closely than I thought to the unhoused.

So many of us have been out enjoying our good weather. And earlier this week, as I made my way down some steps at the park, I exchanged "good mornings" with some people resting there as well as pleasant comments about each other’s dogs. It has been a month since I injured my left ankle and right knee and I was anxious to get back to exercising. The park provides safer walking surfaces than the neighborhood, as well as more plants and trees and people to see.

As my little dog, Daisy, and I were finishing our walk, I noticed a man coming toward me. I wasn’t afraid. As a matter of fact, I had just been thinking about how nice it is to live in your own hometown and always feel safe no matter where you are.

However, instead of staying in his lane as he passed me, the man came up and slapped at me, speaking incoherently and demanding that I give him my phone.

As he walked away I thought, "Well, there go my smug feelings about safety."

But then something happened. The other unhoused people at the park spoke up and started angrily calling to the man and asking me if I was OK. I had not realized I was being watched and, in a way, protected by them.

It dawned on me that of course the need for peace and safety at the park is of benefit to us all and that this man’s actions could have a significant impact on the environment of the unhoused, especially if reported.

We are all connected, and I realized that in the future I need to walk with more care and awareness, not so much for personal safety, but because my naïve behavior has the potential of putting the freedom of the outdoor space at risk.

Miguel's poem


Fournier met up with her son this week and recorded Miguel reading a poem about his experience on the street:

It's hard to grasp the fact, that people be in the streets,
Die from drug overdoses, illness, and violence
Most won't make it out alive,
But followed by blaring sirens,
Departed away, from a life that wasn't worth trying,
A lifestyle that ends up dying,
And "close ones" who cared, now sit back crying
Show compassion for my neighbor
Show pity, for thoughts so silly,
Although they are of the upmost importance, still that way
Can't stay, because thinking that you have it,
Can't play, won't pay, due to your funds going to your habit,
Your state of mind,
through the years and struggle, molds into a state of grind,
Until no further line, can be crossed, then you’re all but grime,
And a grimy P.O.S., is all we find, still...
Show compassion for my neighbor
Lost your way, nights and days, sometimes sad or raged,
but stuck still in a maze,
Infused by overwhelming confusion, keep it losing,
catch a win, every now and then, still keep a path of destructive delusion,
live rule free evading our very own constitution,
because lawless-chaos is very addicting, please
Show compassion for my neighbor
A lot of them sick, and many mentally ill,
some pass from the disease of addiction, or some of them killed.
one hit is all it takes from a blue pill,
or knocked by COVID, man this is too real,
the streets will never take account to what they feel, how i feel,
coldest winters, like ice on steel, no food to eat, so had to steal,
man every meal,
shoot what's the deal, cell doors, that's if they're lucky,
first thing taught, never be to lucky,
cuz its not about luck, its about your smarts
find a way to end that cycle long after the start, and
I’ll show compassion for my neighbor.
Show sympathy for those less fortunate, empathize with those trying to quit,
cuz quitting isn't easy, its hard to make happen,
one day at a time will get it cracking,
can't let the past dictate your present, asking for help is somewhat of a present,
attainable goals to manage yourself, self respect doesn't need much help,
still ask for help,
Emotions come back, feelings attack, hit you unexpected, glad that their back,
Fresh and clean, new shirt on your back,
Simple steps take time, don't ever waste that,
new sense of purpose, brings validation,
be grateful to have had this implication
and we'll always show compassion for our neighbors

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