Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Complex

I walk into The Complex. I stop. I look. It’s drab. There is no grass. Vegetation is dead. The units appear vacant. The pool is empty. Potholes are deep. Abandoned cars. Trash. Broken windows. Broken doors. Broken dreams. What causes a community to turn? What drives the property to distress? Where are all the people? Who? What? Why? So many questions. So little answers. I continue my journey deeper into The Complex. As I walk I find it is not so much a physical journey as it is a mental, mind-opening venture into areas unknown. Anticipation. 

The Complex
One of my units has a busted door. Again? This is the third time. As I slowly push the door open I am met with a pair of eyes looking back at me. “You have to leave”, I calmly tell him. “I’m going”, he quickly says. Our conversation is short. He leaves the unit. I watch him as he goes into the common area and disappears from sight. He is wasted. Drugged. In another world. As I look around the living area I see yet more personal belongings scattered about. A bag of charcoal opened and poured out on the floor. Getting ready for dinner? It’s a mess. More graffiti. More clothing. More junk. Again. 
Busted Door

I leave this unit and walk to another. It’s secure and has not been tampered with nor damaged. I move on. 

There is, what appears to be a family, visiting outside their home. This one is memorable. Last summer they complained they had no AC when it was 110 degrees. The owner was contacted. He did nothing. It was hot. The unit was sold. I know this because I am now the owner. Do they want to move? Would they prefer a nicer unit? As I visit I see a young man standing nearby. After closer observation I realize he’s just a boy. Maybe 13 or 14 years old. And, he has a monitoring device on his ankle. A criminal. As this thought is pondered I am snapped back to the current. The family doesn’t want to move. This place will work just fine for them. They have fans. And besides, it’s no longer hot outside. 

My quest for learning leads me deeper into The Complex and through to the other side. There are two ladies sitting in lawn chairs visiting. They are across the alley at the neighboring complex. The conversation is animated and they seem to be having a good time. Greetings are exchanged. One lady asked me if I am with the HOA. I ask her if she is part of The Complex. One says yes. The other says no. I tell them I am not part of the HOA but would be willing to help. She is fed up. She has had enough. Did I know a 13-year old kid was murdered here yesterday? Gracious. This is the 3rd murder in the complex in the 4 months since I first entered it. Her teenagers were sent to family in South Dakota and she stays here with her younger kids and boyfriend. South Dakota will be her home again. She is so done with The Complex. Moving. Had enough. When her lease is up she is gone. 

I thank them for their time and promise to make a difference. They thank me. 

My walk back into The Complex causes my alertness to elevate. My vision is clear. My senses are heightened. There is a knife. I pick it up and put it in my pocket. I see drug needles. I leave them there. Beer bottles on the ground. Grocery carts in the pool. I find it’s not really empty. There is no water. But, there is a lot of trash. A lot. Disturbing. 

I make my way back to my point of entry. The drugged vagrant who was in my unit is back. He is sitting on the step outside the door. Likely waiting until I leave so he can go back into the unit. I have had enough. The police are contacted. They are on the way. Minutes pass. I wander. I wonder. I think. Why?
The Help

The police arrive. I point out the culprit. He tells the police, yes, he was in the unit. But, he left when asked. He has a soda can in his left hand and a lighter in the right. Drugs. Marijuana and meth. He is arrested and carted away. Burglary. Drug possession. Drug paraphernalia possession. 

Back to the unit with no AC. I find out later the young man with the monitoring bracelet is 15 years old. He has been charged with armed robbery. Allegedly, he was part of the 3 armed robberies of the corner Circle K next door over a week’s time. 

Subsequently, they have not paid their rent and they have to be evicted. The police ask me to wait for a few days as they think they are selling drugs and guns out of their unit. They are about to make a “buy”. The guns have no serial numbers. Well, they did have serial numbers. But, now they are “clean”. There are 15 people living in this unit. I wait. 

In my conversations with the police department it is confirmed. Yes, there was another murder. Just a kid. His life snuffed out in a moment. Rival gangs. A life is taken. Just a kid. 3rd murder here in 4 months. Why?

This is the life I have entered in The Complex. I am on a mission. 
Inside the Complex
Although the narrative above is in the personal, singular “I”, it is really “we” and “us”. We have an amazing team which is working closely with the community, the City of Phoenix Neighborhood Services, Neighborhood Preservation and the police department. The city is excited about the developments and they have been extremely helpful. We are excited with the opportunity. Things are about to change and we can feel it. 

This morning as I was pondering what has transpired and the people I have met I ask myself a question: “What causes people to become this far removed from a ‘civilized’ life?” The questions continue. Why do some people break out of this life? Why do some get sucked in? Why do some stick around? Why do some leave? As I look into their eyes and visit with them I see something. Actually, it is not what I see, it is what I DON’T see. Four months after my first visit, it niggles at the back of my brain. It is incessant. What is it? Something is missing. But what?

Today the realization came to me in a discussion. As I was speaking to someone about our project they asked what the people needed more than anything. My answer was clear, immediate and somewhat surprised me. “Hope. All they need is hope.” The person I was visiting with said, “Wow. That was not at all the answer I was expecting.” We visited about this further and it became clear. I know what is missing. Hope. The difference between those who are stuck and those who are not is simply hope. 

It is time to give the community hope. 

And that is life, in my corner of the globe.