Community Heroes: Helping The Homeless

By Recker McDowell —

Being homeless in Phoenix is brutal in the summer with the relentless heat. The situation for the homeless and transients is even more dangerous now with COVID-19 and Arizona’s rise in cases.

This makes the work of shelters, social services workers, and volunteers even more essential to our communities and our neighbors in need. They are the definition of Good Samaritans and essential workers.

Ted Leonard is one of those essential volunteers helping the homeless in the East Valley. The retired pastor drives from Maricopa to Chandler regularly to help homeless folks. He was recently honored with Chandler’s Volunteer Recognition Award.

Leonard said the needs and concerns for the homeless population are magnified by COVID-19 and current conditions. But he said everyday life for homeless persons and families is dangerous and perilous so getting them to take safeguards against the pandemic can challenging.

“For most we live relatively safe secure lives and the threat of COVID 19 is quite unsettling. For the homeless, whose daily lives are anything but safe and secure COVID 19 takes a backseat to many other perils,” Leonard said. “

“During this period of pandemic one of my regulars was stabbed and nearly killed. I regularly talk to those in my homeless family who were mugged or robbed of everything they own. Several have been struck by cars while out at night walking or riding their bikes. One of my regulars was struck by a car and killed on Arizona Ave. The homeless face perils from other homeless, from gangs, from drug dealers, and from being rousted by the police. And so no, the threat of contracting COVID 19 is just not as big a deal to most homeless as it is to the rest of us,” Leonard said.

His experiences and insight are illustrative of the contrasts in life experiences and situations our neighbors face. These are our neighbors. They put other stresses in perspective. They should also give us insight into what it means ‘to walk in some else’s shoes.

That applies not only to homeless folks but also the race, class and culture differences that are too often dividing America.

Leonard said the homeless often use fast food restaurants, coffee shops, covered park structures, and public libraries to duck into and cool off from the Arizona’s intense summer heat. But many of those locations have been or are closed or have limited hours and require social distancing. All that eliminates some respites from the summer heat, he said.

Think about that when our heat goes above 110, 115 degrees.

Leonard is concerned about COVID’s potential spread in homeless encampments. ”Most of the homeless have no concept of, or just choose not to participate in social distancing,” he said. “Since some, not all, homeless people tend to move from encampment to encampment the possibility exists for a carrier to come into our group of homeless and infect a lot of people.”

Leonard, who has been helping homeless persons in Chandler and the East Valley for years, said the COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted volunteers and operations to help the homeless.

Some buildings and areas have been closed or restricted because of COVID. Leonard said everything from transport services and meals to showers, support and religious services have been impacted by the Coronavirus.

Like other nonprofits, the groups that help the homeless have had to cancel or postpone fundraising events. They have seen donations drop. They deserve our support. Leonard, for example, works with Compass Christian Church and AZCEND in the East Valley.

Volunteers and social service agencies are doing their best to continue to offer essential services, compassion and caring to our neighbors in need, many of them with underlying health and mental health challenges.

These volunteers and essential workers define the good in our communities. They help and lift up others when they need it most. They may not always be in the spotlight or forefront, but they are essential beyond measure. They are the real influencers

Leonard said there are many current needs for the homeless was they navigate the summer heat, COVID-19 and other stressful circumstances. He said some of the ways to help are straightforward and helpful.

“When we have our meal on Sunday morning, we always hand out water. But the homeless need water throughout the week. To those wishing to help one way would be to buy a case of water, keep it in your car and if you see one or more obviously homeless people offer them a bottle of water,” Leonard said.

“When we resume the shower ministry, I will again be providing socks, underwear, body wash, razors, and some clothing, and shoes as they are available. If a person, family, group, or business wanted to help they could drop off these items at the church office. Please only new socks and underwear, and laundered men’s and women’s pants and tops, and good used shoes,” Leonard said. “Please also pray for the homeless in our community. God Bless.”