By Logan Lowrey-Rasmussen
In one of the hottest months to rock Phoenix, the blazing sun becomes most oppressive for individuals who lack stable housing.
Multiple national news outlets including The Washington Post report August 2020 to be the hottest month on record with an average of 98.9 degrees, spelling trouble with the simultaneously rising homeless population as an intersecting underreported crisis in Arizona.
Tamara Wright, the co-chair of the Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care Board, told the Phoenix New Times in an article published on August 12th that “this is the first time in [Maricopa County’s] history that surveyors have recorded more unsheltered people than those in shelters,” a problem already foreseen in the annual Point in Time homeless count released two days prior.
Even as the pandemic and political battle for Arizona rages on and the 2020 presidential election draws near, one loosely organized group of locals have been offering assistance to the underprivileged and underserved demographics of Arizona and beyond.
According to three members of the project who chose to go under aliases to protect their identity, Funky Kong says Phoenix Autonomy Mutual Aid began as a natural progression from various other groups they have been involved with.
“The main unifying goal throughout has always been to help out the most disadvantaged folks in our community,” says Funky Kong.
Vera Figner elaborated on the group’s origins while also describing his background’s impact on their work.
“I grew up in the hood [in the West Phoenix/Maryvale area] and the conditions that we find ourselves forced to live in are bullshit; the system that offers any kind of help only provides the bare minimum [and] never allows for people to catch up, to catch our breath, and get into a situation where bettering ourselves seems like anything but an impossible and exhausting dream," he says.
“As a person who grew up in poverty, I know others in the same scenario. I wanted to help my friends and their neighbors because it’s the only way we can make it through to the next paycheck.” They say that as long as we see each other as human beings, it can be pretty easy to build connections based on human kindness.
Funky Kong says the main thing that they want to get out of this whole project is hope.
“Demonstrating solidarity in action [while] providing basic needs for our community like [literacy], learning materials, and a human connection [gives] reassurance that they're not alone in this — it helps everyone on both sides of this project,” says Funky Kong.
Funky Kong also says their individual involvement in a printing distro provided the production of distributing radical anarchist literature, while Amalfitano talked about their individual work helping a yard sale which fundraised for the homeless population.
“I volunteer with an all-POC, anti-authoritarian media collective called Belly of the Beast Media; it’s an opportunity for folks to discuss issues faced by BIPOC without having to sugarcoat it for white viewership,” says Vera Figner.
Funky Kong and Amalfitano say they worked with a separate group called Phoenix Autonomy, which helped organize bail funds for people who were unjustly arrested by the Phoenix PD during the recent BLM protests. Phoenix Autonomy Mutual Aid also opened a free store for residents in low-income and government housing. Amalfitano says the supplies were “as simple and necessary as toilet paper and soap."
“We brought more supplies than we needed and they were all gone within an hour and a half; to me, that proves just how badly there is a need for things like this.”
“[The project is] in the initial stages, and it is really easy to get ahead of yourself and accidentally take on more than you can handle right away; that's why we have made the conscious decision to get our monthly free store up and running regularly before even attempting anything else,” Amalfitano continues.
They hope in time the project will expand substantially after building a solid foundation.
“All we care about is quantifiably getting [necessities] to people who need them,” says Amalfitano. “In a larger sense, there is pushback from society itself against projects like this.”
Funky Kong says their work is much less provocative than some projects in the area, but wants to stress their work isn't any less political or revolutionary than the project’s counterparts.
“We’re living in a world that promotes alienation and isolation from one’s community and labor in order to further the interests of those in power; subverting [that power] and building connections [and] a support system within one’s community is, in and of itself, a revolutionary act,” Funky Kong continues.
Vera Figner says the first step in building sustainable community growth is a solid foundation of having basic necessities met.
“I believe in us as a collective, our dedication to this long term project, [and] the residents we are connecting with; Black Lives Matter is about defunding the police, and one of the demands is reinvesting in our communities.” They say the project has no desire to become part of the “non-profit industrial complex” since they only offer temporary relief, but plan to be active in the community “for the long haul.”
The group says they encourage anyone who needs help with legal fees or bail-needs to reach out to [email protected] and contact the project. That email also works if you have items to donate. See the flyer below for items needed.
“If you care about supporting a true grassroots group of people who actually give a damn, who are actively trying and succeeding in making a difference for people, please donate." The group is accepting donations via Venmo @Autonomymutualaid.