“This is the best view I think I have ever had camping,” said Dave from the banks of the East Verde River Wednesday, a grim smile on his face.
However, Dave, 27, isn’t camping off Flowing Springs Road for the scenery. He’s homeless along with his wife Tammy, 26, and three children all under 7.
Dave, who asked that we not use his real name to protect his family’s privacy, has found himself where many Americans have in the last five years, without a job and no prospects in sight.
With nowhere to turn, the couple found a quiet place near the creek and set up a tent and a pile of rocks for cooking, with the rest of their life piled in a dusty SUV.
Now the couple is looking for any work to get their family out of the dirt and into a real home.
On Wednesday, Lynn Canning and another
volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank made a home visit to Dave and Tammy — minus the home — to assess their needs and offer help.
Just in the last month, St. Vincent volunteers have made 29 home visits, assisting 93 people. This is on top of the 780 boxes of food handed out at the food bank.
Although Dave and Tammy’s situation is extreme, it isn’t the first time volunteers have visited someone living in a tent. One woman was living under a tree, Canning recalled.
Food bank volunteer Robert Closs said most people have no idea how others are living and it can be “quite an experience going into an impoverished home.”
The number of home visits is on the rise for St. Vincent, with volunteers seeing more families doubled up, children living with grandparents and senior citizens unable to pay their bills.
While some people only need help once to pay a utility bill due to an unexpected emergency, others, like Dave and Tammy, need more help to get back on their feet.
Payson’s St. Vincent de Paul Society offers food, financial assistance for medical, rent, utilities, emergency shelter and transportation costs.
Everything is funded through donations, since the society receives no federal support.
With so many families in need, St. Vincent said it needs the community’s help.
On Saturday, Sept. 24, St. Vincent is hosting the fourth annual Friends of the Poor Walk. The walk starts at 8 a.m. at the Edward Jones office in the Sawmill Crossing.
The non-competitive event is a major fund-raiser for the group, said Penny Dorgan, with St. Vincent.
“All the money raised by the event will be used directly to help those in need in the Rim Country,” she said.
Dave and Tammy say they never thought they would wind up homeless.
Since their teens, both have held jobs regularly. Dave has worked mostly in the construction and trucking fields.
Both have worked consistently in the past. However, when the construction business came to a screeching halt, everything unraveled.
Dave worked at several more jobs, including one at a furniture store, where he acquired the one luxury the family still has — a $1,500 mattress Dave and Tammy share with their 1-, 2- and 7-year-old children in the tent.
Their eldest son’s birthday is Saturday, but the couple has no money for a present. Luckily, Dave has found quite a few geodes in the area that the boy marvels over.
When things really slowed down in Georgia, the couple decided to head west to Phoenix where Tammy’s brother and grandparents live.
Within eight hours of arriving in the Valley, Dave had a job. But when the heating and cooling gig ended a few weeks later, nothing else came up. The couple had enough money to stay in a hotel for a week and during that time applied for jobs in the Valley. Dave even sat at a day laborer office, but got no offers.
With eight adults and children already staying in Tammy’s grandparents’ three-bedroom home, there was no room for them.
To escape the searing temperatures, the couple came to Payson.
“Well, the good news is you don’t have to pay rent or utilities out here,” Ed said.
The bad news: being five miles out of town the couple’s SUV eats up a lot of gas.
“I have three dollars to my name,” Dave said.
Ed and Lynn said the first thing they can offer the couple is a gas card, which should give them enough money to continue looking for work.
The food bank has already provided the family with a food box and diapers.
While the society will help anyway it can, it never hands over cash.
If someone needs help to pay a propane bill, they write the check. The same goes for any other bill.
Volunteers prescreen everyone to verify their situation and need.
While money may be needed to keep the lights on, there is normally something bigger going on in their life, said Deacon Ed Burgin.
“When we meet people we try to understand what the issue is and maybe help them step backwards and see what is going on,” he said.
“If we can help people look more realistically at their choices, we can help them take a different direction, but other times, people need to hit rock bottom before they will change,” Dorgan said.
“They want to survive today, but we want them to survive the whole year,” she said.
Dorgan said she doesn’t believe anyone purposely falls short in life.
“I really think everyone does the best they can at any given time,” she said, “but sometimes things really do fall apart and we are there to help.”
But who is helping the food bank meet the demand?
A larger St. Vincent food bank in the Valley used to supply food at a discounted price, but those shipments are few and far between.
Payson’s society used to receive 12 pallets of food for $300, not including shipping costs from the Valley. Now they receive a fraction of that and are having to make up the difference at local supermarkets.
“It costs a lot more to buy locally,” Closs said.
The group used to spend $500 a month on local groceries, but is now spending $3,000.
To sustain this, the group needs donations.
If you would like to register to walk, sponsor a walker, make a donation or get more information on the walk, call Lynn at (928) 474-1347 or Ed at (928) 468-8595.