Why you should care
Because it’s easier than you think to end up on the street.
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
They wake me up around 6 a.m. I have to be out by 7 a.m. I’m living in a hotel that was turned into a homeless shelter for young people. I’m 20. When I leave here, I take the bus to another shelter called Tumbleweed. That’s where I went to escape from Quick.
I’m from Missouri, but came to Phoenix to live with my uncle a few months ago. That’s where I met Queen. There was a lot of stuff going on at my uncle’s that I didn’t want to be around, so I started staying with Queen and her kid. I used to do meth and didn’t want to get back into that. I thought she had my back. We mostly stayed in hotels. That’s when I first tried working the corners. My first date was on the side of the road. I did it because I wanted the money. Looking back, maybe they pressured me to.
Then one morning I woke up and Queen was gone, and her cousin Quick was sitting on the couch with a pistol laying on the table in front of him. He said we were going to have a chat. Then he said, “You’re my bitch now.” I never thought something like this would happen to me.
I had to leave the door open when I showered and went to the bathroom. He would make me take Klonopin to mellow me out.
He made me walk the blocks. He would sit in his car and watch. The other girls would try to give me tips, but I wasn’t allowed to talk to them. I’d get smacked for that. He would make me get prettied up. I had to have a pep in my step and always make eye contact. If I didn’t follow the rules, I was going to have to “pay the consequences.” I had to leave the door open when I showered and went to the bathroom. He would make me take Klonopin to mellow me out. When I didn’t do what Quick wanted, he’d hit me with an open hand or pull my hair.
Quick made a profile on Backpage.com. Some dates I would go to them; some they would come here. Those are called ins and outs. First thing you do to make sure it’s not a cop is make them touch your nipple under your shirt. Then you tell them to put the “donation” on the table. The most they get is a half-hour, but I always try to finish as fast as possible. Sometimes it would get painful.
Quick wanted me to start driving the car, so he wanted me to get my ID. I had been coming to Tumbleweed, because they were going to help me become a certified nursing assistant, and I told him my ID was there with my other stuff. When he took me, I ran in and locked the door. He was pacing outside.
Tumbleweed is where homeless teenagers go. They feed us and try to help us, let us do laundry or shower. But it closes at 12:30 p.m., and I can’t go back to my shelter until 4:30 p.m. It’s, like, 110 degrees outside, so sometimes I just ride the light rail or the bus around, or I go to the library. Sometimes I’m scared he’s going to come looking for me.
I’m trying to get help so I can go home to Missouri. I’m homesick. I never really got to see the good parts of Arizona. I really want to go to the zoo.
—As told to Meghan Walsh
Video by Melanie Ruiz