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Phoenix squatter Gonzo talks urban survival and scavenging for food

Phoenix Uncut met up with travelers and squatters on the streets of downtown Phoenix. Hear what Gonzo had to say about finding a meal each day.

Although he admits that heckling passerby for food can be difficult, 24-year-old traveler and squatter “Gonzo” isn’t concerned about going hungry.

“People think homeless people are starving or something,” Gonzo said, “they’re not starving, they’re ‘spanging’ (asking for spare change) for beer. They can get your food out of a dumpster.”

Gonzo’s transient lifestyle isn’t for everyone. He mentions that a portion of the homeless population is “too lazy” to scavenge. But Gonzo survives on leftovers and thrown-out food. He leads the Phoenix Uncut team behind a Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches restaurant, where he rips open a plastic bag of day-old bread.

“If the U.K. and the U.S. just combined forces and took all their food that was still good that they were going to throw away, and gave it away to the homeless and the hungry people in the world, world hunger would be over with,” Gonzo said. He breaks off a piece of bread and tosses it into the parking lot.

Even as a vegetarian, Gonzo finds enough leftover food on the streets. Pizza and sandwich joints provide more than enough food when strangers won’t. If he finds leftover pizza, he’ll pick off the meat.

“I’ve got a friend who’s homeless and vegan, and I don’t know how he does it. He just eats hot Takis and Oreos all day,” Gonzo said.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 36 million tons of food goes to waste each year. Volunteer groups like Waste Not, Want Not and WRAP aim to combat wastefulness by redirecting food to those in need.

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Students coexist with homeless in downtown Phoenix

For students living on Arizona State University’s urban campus in downtown Phoenix, encountering the homeless is a daily reality.

Aubrey Badger, an ASU sophomore public relations major, has encountered her fair share of colorful characters living on campus.

“During our orientation they gave us a little lecture about how to deal with panhandlers, and I anticipated them to be a bigger problem than they ended up being,” Badger said, “but they mostly keep to themselves.”

According to 2012’s “Homeless in Arizona” report, Phoenix experienced a 11.2 percent year over year increase in the  homeless population.

As a result, student interactions with the growing homeless population are not uncommon. Badger, originally from San Diego, says most students are able to adapt to the urban lifestyle, even after moving from smaller towns. But as Phoenix changes, so does the homeless population.

Jimmy and Gonzo lead Phoenix Uncut on a tour of several squatting locations not far from ASU's downtown campus
Jimmy and Gonzo lead Phoenix Uncut on a tour of several squatting locations not far from ASU’s downtown campus

“They’re braver here than they are other places … I’ve definitely been approached by a few homeless people and been asked for money,” Badger said.

Kathlyn Nguyen, a rising ASU junior broadcast journalism major, was born and raised in Phoenix before she moved into ASU’s downtown dorm. The student said she’s had mixed experiences with the homeless population.

“I feel for them because they’ve obviously been through some things in their life. But there are some times when it’s really aggressive,” Nguyen said, “and being a young female student living downtown without a car, it gets hard when you are harassed almost on a regular basis.”

And while encounters with the homeless can be uncomfortable, ASU police and students are doing their best to provide long-lasting solutions and maintain civility alongside the city’s less fortunate.

“I’ve had pleasant experiences with the homeless population … some of these people have the best stories that you will ever hear. Some of these people have been at the top of the world and now, as society sees it, they are at the bottom … there are stories to tell and there are lessons to be learned,” Nguyen said.