When George Luna and his Gilbert family invited John Wagner to live in their grandmother’s home for just $25 a month, they had all the best intentions.
Their dreams included Wagner getting off the hot streets where he’d lived more than a decade. And Wagner encouraged those ideals with plans to go to school and better himself.
But just two months after he moved in, Wagner — a homeless man who gained attention after forming a makeshift home under a Gilbert tree — is back on the streets.
And the Lunas’ small home near downtown Mesa is being cleaned top to bottom. Dirt, blood and beer covered the place and forced Luna to throw away family possessions.
At least three other homeless men had to be evicted from the place, Luna said.
This week, Wagner was found living outside in south central Mesa, near the tree he once used for shelter.
He said his stay at the Luna house went awry after he invited a friend in need to join him in the home, and that friend invited five other homeless people who tore up the house.
“I was just trying to help out another guy who said he wanted to improve himself,” Wagner said.
More than $2,000 in equipment and belongings donated to help Wagner get work doing odd construction jobs is gone.
Maggots two inches deep were discovered in the kitchen garbage can, Luna said, and trash, from bicycle parts to pieces of chimneys, littered the longtime family home. The entire place is being fumigated, he said.
“It’s a very costly mistake,” Luna said. “I wouldn’t do it again. I would really check out the person to see what it’s all about.”
Homeless advocates say they’re disappointed to see the potential happy ending turn sour. But it’s not an easy task to get someone who had been homeless so long off the streets, they said.
Homelessness itself is often a symptom of a bigger problem, said Kathy DiNolfi, program manager for La Mesita shelter in Mesa.
So before an individual can heal, that larger problem must be addressed.
“People are only ready to get off the street when they’re ready to get off the street,” she said. “They have to be ready and willing.”
Assisting a homeless shelter or organization such as La Mesita is one way to provide help to needy individuals, she said — instead of choosing one person to help. Another trend growing among those who want to help is purchasing gift cards to either support organizations or homeless people in the neighborhood, so they can buy their own food, she said.
David Seigler, chief development officer for Phoenix-based Central Arizona Shelter Services, said often it takes many tries for even the most trained staff to get someone off the street.
It can be heart-wrenching for staff who grow close to clients to see them come back time and again, he said, but each time they could be a step closer to success.
“You give somebody a dollar because our morality and compassion compels us to,” he said. But because about 35 percent of his clients are mentally ill and another 20 percent are addicted to drugs and alcohol when they arrive, “the chances of that dollar doing something to help that person are really pretty slim.”
That concern shouldn’t stop people from helping an individual, he added — but donating in a “smarter” way could be more effective.
Meanwhile, Wagner says he plans to move up north now to escape the summer heat if he can’t find another place to stay. He’s also is trying to locate his daughters, including one who lives in north Scottsdale, he said.