To most people, I’m a bit rugged. My settings are basic. I offer simple instructions, so you don’t get overwhelmed by temperatures or forget to close the door. I take the worst of it and make it better, without complaining, just a signal that what was dirty here is clean again, and I’m ready for whoever’s next. Trust me with your stories; I won’t judge your stains.
Throughout the night, it’s cold and lonely here. Sometimes people don’t realize how cold it gets when you’re alone. Sunrise means the vibration of footsteps, cars and carts making their way through Social Spin’s parking lot. When Christy arrives, I get a pat like I’m her old friend or dog, before she rests the morning’s muffins and box of coffee down. My favorite part of the day begins: people coming in to push my buttons! They warm me up, make me dance, take me to my happy place.
They don’t have to tell me where they’ve been; stuff falls out of their pockets. A lighter can say a lot about where a person is, so can endless loose change, and a photograph kept in the sole of a young man’s shoe to remind him where home is when he’s living in an alley. My favorite thing to wash is a person’s sleeping bag, because they tend to leave behind the aftertaste of mesquite and soil.
Chris opens me up and stares me in the drum. He has a slight sway early this morning. He came back. Coming back is great. He’s looking at me like my massive force isn’t enough to clean what he came with. He doubts the power of my spin.
“Where’s the bleach?” he asks our Social Work Intern, Vince.
“No bleach, today,” Vince says,
Here comes Christy. Maybe you can’t tell her footsteps, but I feel them in my drum. “Good morning! You know, Chris, we’re out of bleach today, so we’ll use vinegar to help keep your whites white. Ok?” she’s off: mission.
Yes, you can be barefoot while these grey sneakers spin white again, toss them in! No one will yell at you. If they do, they must not know what it’s like be barefoot while cleaning their one and only pair of shoes. I’ll do my best to hold them together while they’re coming apart. Don’t worry about the vinegar, it’ll do the trick and you won’t smell like salad dressing.
Chris asks a lady, “Can you buy me a cup of coffee? Sometimes people don’t let me in places if I don’t have shoes on.”
“Sure,” she says, “Do you get kicked out of places a lot?”
“Oh, yeah,” he says, shaking his head a vigorous ‘yes.’ His footsteps are much softer without shoes, as they walk through the front door and head to the donut shop. I stay behind, tossing pebbles out of tread and soles.
While they are gone, a social worker from Native American Connections comes by to talk to Chris and stays, talking to other folx in the laundromat, asking their stories about where they’re living and how they’re getting by and what they need right now to live, while getting to a healthier, safer space.
Native American Connections provides services that improve individual and family lives “through Native American culturally appropriate behavioral health, affordable housing, and community development services.” A truly great resource seems to be one that understands the web of community and how one thing/resource/need is usually connected to many others. Today, Chris may become one of the 10,000+ people they serve in Central Phoenix this year.
When Chris and the woman return, he has two coffee cups in his hands. He tells her, “I call Christy my street mom because she’s always looking out and making sure we got some help if we’re ready for it,” just as Christy walks up to let him know the social worker is there.
“Thanks for the coffee,” he says and follows the social worker out front for a conversation.
The lady with the coffee asks Christy, “Do you have any resources for someone who is dealing with addiction and facing a housing crisis?”
“You know what? We’re meeting this week with Sonoran Prevention Works. To my knowledge, they’re the only ones who will work with you without requiring detox before services. Let me get you a number,” she always has a number.
I don’t know if Chris took the resources he was introduced to, but he left with clean shoes. I learned that Sonoran Prevention Works is an advocate working, “To end health disparities faced by those made vulnerable by drug use & other high-risk behaviors in Arizona through harm reduction focused education, advocacy and evidence-based programming.”
Like Christy and the entire Social Spin team, they meet people where they are without judgement. They don’t turn them away because they only have one pair of shoes. They know that being human is a complex job that requires skills, health care, education and resources, and know that not all people are taught those things. They work together, building community partnerships, to reach people faster.
Believe me, I know. More than what falls from a person’s pockets during the rinse cycle, I filter their blood, sweat and tears from every load.
M.D. Leto lives near the Lower Salt River with a rescue dog named Charlie, four chickens, her wife and several experimental gardens. She holds an MFA from Northern Arizona University and writes narratives to change the world. She is a frequent contributor to the Javelina Co blog and is sometimes invited to read her poetry and essays in public spaces.