Advocate helping those experiencing homelessness in metro Phoenix through poetry, expression
TEMPE, Ariz. — Austin Davis is a poet and the founder of an outreach program that helps connect those experiencing homelessness in metro Phoenix with essential supplies.
He doesn’t work out of a cushy corner office — or even a traditional one. He’s a hard man to track down.
Davis’ operation is out of his brown van, which spills over with supplies for AZ Hugs for the Houseless, his offshoot connected with Arizona Jews for Justice.
His approach goes beyond the tangible items he’s able to provide. Davis believes an approach of expressing love and comfort are necessary to help improve the lives of people in need.
“The first thing usually is just sitting down with someone and not even asking ‘What do you need?'” Davis said.
“I don’t have all the answers. All I am is someone to walk with that person on their path, whatever that may look like.”
Davis’ phone rings often. Many times, its for help with detox and drug issues.
He believes a hug or meaningful conversation can go a long way — even potentially saving a life. His poetry is a big part of his approach.
“Often times throughout the day I’ll just take a break, and like, not even write a full poem, but just write a couple lines, an idea or something,” Davis said.
Davis says people experiencing homelessness often turn to drugs in place of attention or love.
“It’s cheaper than food, it’s cheaper than water,” he said. “It’s everywhere … It’s the most accessible tool to battle loneliness. Loneliness really is the silent killer out here.”
Other people Davis helps have separate issues, but his message is unchanged.
Eselina Barnett is a friend of Davis’. They met when Davis towed her car for her and he helped her find housing.
The duo’s most recent meeting came at a medical facility in Tempe where Barnett and her adult son, who has autism, were at.
Barnett says her son’s autism is a barrier to improving her situation, calling it an “invisible disregard” from the government and others. She doesn’t blame her Jachin, but understands the reality of the situation.
Davis is there to try and bridge that gap and be a voice for them.
“So many of the people experiencing homelessness are also dealing with health issues and mental health issues and things that make it that much harder to gain any traction,” Davis said.
Barnett is excited to report her progress to Davis. She pointed out a new car parked along the road near the facility.
“Update! I got a car,” and then laughing, “that’s my new address right there.” She’s living in the vehicle with her son.
Davis has a special connection with Barnett because of her son.
Like Davis, Barnett’s son has a creative outlet that allows him to express the thoughts he has on the painful experiences he’s endured.
Despite not speaking until he was eleven, Barnett says her son, who raps under the name “Jam Ammy,” produces his own work and needs it as an outlet.
“He’s a Will Smith but ten times better,” she said before putting him on the spot over a video call.
Now, Davis and Jam Ammy plan on meeting up to share music and poetry.
They help show one thing: Even when people lack basic needs, the need to express and be heard by others is not simply a luxury.
Expression is not a cure for drug addiction or hunger, but the connection it allows builds resilient bonds with friends who can help stave off the deadly loneliness Davis says takes so many lives.
Davis says the same thing most people do when asked how to fix homelessness: There is no single answer, but rather an intersection of several complicated factors that push people out of shelter.
But for now, if nothing else, a helping hand and push in the right direction can be the difference between the start of recovery and a death spiral.
“We’re just doing the best we can and that’s why I try to people,” Davis said. “It’s not like I have all the answers, but I’m not going to leave your side.”
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