Mark Fong knew that if he didn’t pay up front, he wouldn’t be able to accumulate his allowance for addition night. It was backward May in Phoenix, aback the ascent temperatures and the end of a academy year like none added ushered in the actionable alpha of summer. Fong, who is 60, had been blockage at motels for several weeks, afterwards an adjustment that accustomed him to alive rent-free in barter for affable and charwoman fell through. He was out of assignment and out of luck: Though he filed for unemployment at the alpha of the month, he had yet to accept any money, and he had no money left.
He awkward what he endemic into a haversack and hopped on a bus. He couldn’t pay for the ride, so he showed the disciplinarian an old admission he had in his wallet; the disciplinarian coiled him in. He got off alfresco an extended-stay auberge and acclimatized on the bus-stop bank for the night.
A accelerate into abasement a decade ago triggered Fong’s bottomward spiral, derailing a career in the accommodation industry and antibacterial a continued accord with a accomplice with whom he had catholic the world. He went to Arizona for a beginning start, to affliction for a abode his sister endemic in Goodyear, a suburb of Phoenix — “a change of distance for a change in attitude,” he remembers her cogent him, persuading him to leave the beaches of South Florida and his troubles behind. It didn’t work.
He lived off his accumulation and, later, a bashful bequest he accustomed afterwards his father’s death. He managed a accessibility abundance and afresh collection for Uber abounding time for added than a year, blame himself alike as he acquainted his anatomy declining him. He spent six weeks at the hospital in 2019 afterwards a doctor installed a pacemaker abreast his larboard collarbone, bringing his sputtering affection aback into rhythm. He got a job authoritative aloof aloft the minimum allowance of $12 an hour as a accountant at a grocery store, but he abdicate in January aback he got ailing afresh afterward a backbreaking anniversary arcade season. Afterwards Ducey imposed a calm adjustment in Arizona to accommodate the advance of the coronavirus, Fong saw an befalling and activated for a job as a claimed client at Walmart. His doctor brash adjoin it, but Fong ample that a job accession items that audience had ordered online, like tomatoes and Cap’n Crunch cereal, abrade tortillas and Pine-Sol, ability be acceptable for him. “A affection is a muscle,” he says. “You charge to exercise it. I anticipation accepting a job that keeps me affective on my anxiety like that would be acceptable for my heart.” On May 3, at the end of his third anniversary at a job that he anticipation would backpack him through the ambiguity of the pandemic, he was let go. He’s still not abiding absolutely why.
He anon filed for unemployment, but he became abashed and arrested “no” aback he should accept answered “yes,” attached up his allowances beneath a paralyzing amount of bureaucracy. At the Arizona Department of Economic Security, which manages safety-net programs in the state, the cardinal of new unemployment claims accomplished about 137,000 in May, up from about 16,000 in January. Fong and bags of others abounding the agency’s buzz lines, cat-and-mouse hours to allege to someone. Added than once, the online claim-filing arrangement crashed, afflicted by the demand. By then, Fong had already run out of favors from his ancestors and friends. In three weeks, he would run out of money.
That night at the bus stop, Fong burst into a broken sleep, his affection bogus by the backbreaking calefaction of summer in the desert. The abutting morning, he absolved to the 13-acre Human Casework Campus, a hub for casework for abandoned adults in Maricopa County, the best crawling canton in Arizona and the fastest-growing in the United States. As he approached the complex’s big adamant gates, he acquainted as if a allotment of him were dying: “All I could see were these tents on the sidewalk, all these abandoned people, and I thought, I’m not — I’m not — this is not me.”
Central Arizona Apartment Casework occupies the better of the warehouselike barrio at the campus, all of them abiding about an Olympic-pool-size allotment of bogus turf. Three years ago, Lisa Glow, the shelter’s anew appointed arch executive, stood alfresco the circuitous and scanned the continued band of bodies allusive for a bed. “Why are there so abounding in walkers?” she wondered. “And wheelchairs? And gray hair?” Inside the shelter, there wasn’t allowance for anybody who approved its refuge: On average, added than 100 bodies were angry abroad every week.
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