Homeless presence remains at Occupy Phoenix

Homeless people make up a significant portion of the remaining Occupy Phoenix protesters. Some are there to protest, while others show up for the food.

A small group of stalwarts remains at César Chávez Plaza two weeks after nearly 1,000 people took to the streets of Phoenix at the kickoff of Occupy Phoenix. They include both idealistic protesters and members of the city's homeless population.

In some cases, people are both.

Protester Mike Horton of Phoenix said about a dozen of the people present every day at the protest headquarters are homeless. He added between 15 and 60 protesters are present each weekday, making the homeless demographic a sizable part of the protest.

Giovanni Conti of Mesa has been volunteering at the medical tent at Occupy Phoenix almost every day since the protests began.

“I don’t want to speak for anyone else but I think that almost all people, the homeless included, agree ideologically with where we’re coming from,” Conti said.

By Aaron Lavinsky

"I woke up in a homeless shelter down the street and just came over here," said Brandon Smith, 22. "I was just walking and trying to get on the light rail and they were like, 'Free pizza.' I went over there and took a little nap." Smith was arrested along with more than 40 other protesters participating in the Occupy Phoenix protests early in October 2011.

Brian Foulk is one of the homeless regulars at Occupy Phoenix. He said he was invited to join the protest by some friends about a week and a half ago, and he chose to stay and start volunteering because he liked the people.

Faulk said he has been homeless for a few weeks since he lost his job staining and varnishing wood at National Countertops and Cabinets. He was no longer able to afford his house.

“I think (Occupy Phoenix) provides a voice for people, for the working class,” Faulk said. “You got to keep up with the politics and the business.”

Protester Jack Stevenson of Phoenix said Faulk is not the only homeless person who has contributed to the cause.

“It’s about half and half,” Stevenson said. “Some of the homeless help immensely; some just swing by and eat.”

Stevenson pointed to one case in particular. A homeless woman named Susan cooks all the meals that aren’t donated.

Brandon Smith, a homeless man who originally joined the protesters on Oct. 15 because they were offering free pizza, represented the other side of the spectrum.

“I was going to sleep on this street anyways before these people got here, whether these people were here or not,” Smith said.

Smith ended up being arrested that night after choosing to stay.

Free food is provided to all the protesters, said food tent volunteer Stephanie Ribak of Phoenix.

“We don’t turn anyone away,” Ribak said. “Most of the food is donated; we even had somebody bring a bunch of pizza from Pizza Hut a couple days ago.”

Phoenix police sergeant Seth Jahnke was one of several police officers keeping watch on the protest Monday afternoon.

He said he had seen quite a few homeless people while working at Occupy Phoenix, and they, along with everyone else, are allowed to stay overnight as long as they do not look like they are camping or sleeping on the sidewalk.

As long as they follow the rules, homeless people like Faulk are welcomed at the protest.

“The organization of this has been like a blessing,” Faulk said. “I’ve been able to feel like I’m committed to a cause.”

Reach the reporter at julia.shumway@asu.edu or follow @JMShumway on Twitter.

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