Advocates to give shopping carts to homeless in Phoenix, AZ FWD

Tom Boland (
Tue, 27 Jul 1999 14:37:47 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  The Arizona Republic - July 3, 1999



     By L. Anne Newell

"Photo of shopping carts" Mark Schiefelbein/The Arizona Republic [caption]
Friends of the homeless hope that shopping carts that individuals can call
their own will prevent theft from stores. They also hope it will avert
abandonment of carts like this one near 10th Avenue and Jefferson.

Valley advocates for the homeless are considering passing out shopping
carts to homeless people, complete with certificates of ownership so police
can't take them away.

Members of the Phoenix Consortium to End Homelessness may also try to give
duffel bags and backpacks to those with fewer possessions,consortium
Chairwoman Louisa Stark said.

"We've basically decided there is a need for shopping carts of this kind,
especially for those who are recycling and providing that service for the
community," Stark said.

She said the group hopes to start a pilot program this fall in which it
would distribute an initial 20 to 25 carts.

"Essentially, possessions are always a very difficult thing for homeless
people," she said. "They're very much like us, in that they have things and
want to keep them."

She added that initial talks with police and others have been positive.

She said the group may try to buy refurbished carts from the Arizona
Grocer's Association, order new carts from manufacturers or solicit donated

"We are aware that the homeless community will support this, we're just not
too sure about how the greater community will feel," Stark said.

Vice Mayor John Nelson, who headed a subcommittee that examined the
Valley's so-called shopping cart blight, also tentatively endorsed the idea.

"They're looking at this from more of a social aspect than we are, and I
think that's perfectly legitimate if it will help those people in their
daily living and give them something to own," Nelson said.

"That's great."

But he cautioned that the plan cannot include city dollars.

A new cart typically costs about a hundred dollars; refurbished carts are
considerably cheaper but usually don't last as long.

Stark said the consortium has approached several private donors, but has
not yet found funds to back the project.

"We would love to buy new carts and have them powder coated in distinctive
colors to show they do not belong to any grocery chain," she said.

"However, if we can't do that, we're also talking about buying secondhand
ones and also painting those."

A similar program in Los Angeles has met with mixed results.
Homeless-advocacy groups such as L.A. Catholic Worker, which distributed
the carts, call it a stunning success. But police say homeless people have
sold carts to merchants or torn them apart to use as makeshift ovens and
flat-bed carts.

The distributions there began last June, when Catholic Worker, through an
anonymous donor, bought and distributed 100 new carts. It also passed out
certificates noting that the carts belonged to the organization but could
be used by any homeless person.

The carts were emblazoned with Catholic Worker signs and ordered in
non-traditional black so they wouldn't be confused with stolen carts, said
Jeff Dietrich of Catholic Worker.

A month later, Catholic Worker handed out another hundred, he said, and has
distributed about 50 more over the past year.

"Our carts have become more of a precious commodity as it's become clear to
people that police will not take them," Dietrich said.

He said the idea arose from watching police confiscate stolen carts from
homeless people and take their possessions. Valley homeless advocates say
they've seen and heard of the same type of treatment.

But a Phoenix Police Department spokesman, Sgt. Mike Torres, said that's
not true.

"We don't stop a homeless person unless we absolutely have to," he said.

What does worry him, Torres said, is the possibility that if a cart's owner
is arrested, the cart will have to be impounded.

Sgt. Benny Castro of the Los Angeles Police Department conceded that police
there were initially apprehensive of the distribution, citing cases of
homeless people using the carts for crime.

But since then, Castro said, officers have noted that Catholic Worker carts
have been misused and abandoned much less than ordinary grocery store carts.

"The program does help," he said.

But several homeless people interviewed Friday in downtown Phoenix said
they had their doubts.

"It's a good idea, but also a bad idea because shopping carts aren't always
good in the first place," said a man who gave his name only as Hawkins.

"I'd rather have a wall locker."

Other homeless people expressed another concern: Because they aren't
allowed to take carts into shelters at night, the distribution might be

"It's a good idea, but where are we going to keep them?" asked one man, who
requested that his name not be used. "What good does a shopping cart really

But Stark said advocates hope the program will help the community as a
whole, not just the homeless, by reducing theft and blight.

"With people in a way owning their own carts," she said, "there will be
less abandonment and less of a blighted appearance in certain parts of our


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