Sunday, May 18, 2014

A different type of town

Too many cities consider people who live in vehicles instead of buildings to be
undesirable, or even criminal. So it’s a joy to discover a town that accommodates us wanderers.

The first time I stayed near Cottonwood, Arizona, about all I knew of it was some BLM land to camp on and a Walmart to shop at. But this time around, thanks to someone far more curious than me, I learned Cottonwood is downright hospitable to folks living a mobile life. Or to people just down on their luck.

In most cities the problem is where to park and sleep in your vehicle. Though Walmarts are usually a good bet, some towns have outlawed the practice. In Cottonwood you can sleep in several shopping center parking lots. Stay a night, stay a month. No problem. Do dirty looks. No citizens with torches and pitchforks to drive you off. (Though the middle-of-the-night parking lot sweepers can be annoying.)

I liked the Safeway parking lot. It had trees.

Sometimes you need more than a parking spot. Sometimes your resources are very limited. Charities in Cottonwood offer a food bank, a kitchen you can use, free meals (including a weekly community picnic where all are welcome, even if they can’t bring food), free showers, free haircuts, free laundry, free clothing, free eye exams and low-cost glasses... All without questions asked. A friend learned that Goodwill would give her a bicycle. Just because she needed one. And there are mental health services that actually want to help rather than finding excuses not to.

Food bank, showers, laundry and more

Not just neighbors helping neighbors. Neighbors helping strangers, too.

There is such a thing as a free lunch

A good resource

An oasis

Need a bike?

Some argue that this kind of charity just attracts riffraff and damages the community. But Cottonwood is doing fine. In fact, it’s probably a better town because of its magnanimity.

See my friend Lesa's blog for further information.

UPDATE: Due, in part, to a brawl and shooting in the Walmart parking lot, Cottonwood passed an ordinance in 2015 banning overnight camping anywhere in town.

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