Leibowitz

Forbes magazine went to great trouble to assemble its annual list of billionaires, and the rankings received a ton of media coverage, including here in the Valley, where 10 Arizonans made the list. 

You’ll breathe easier knowing Ernie Garcia II of Carvana used-car fame “retained the title of richest Arizonan” despite seeing his net worth drop by 45%, according to Forbes. 

On the bright side, Ernie the Second still has an estimated $8.6 billion in the bank, so the struggle isn’t too real. Also on the list: Two members of the family that started U Haul, the owner of baseball’s Los Angeles Angels, the Go Daddy guy, Ernie’s son, and a few more old white gents. 

Together, their net worth totals $36.3 billion, which can be put into perspective two ways.

Arizona’s per capita income is about $32,000 annually, so these 10 billionaires collectively are worth what 1.1 million of us earn all year. Or – glass half empty – put it all together and Arizona’s Top 10 “ballers” are worth less than one-fifth of Elon Musk’s $219 billion fortune.

Musk became the world’s richest man this year, “dethroning” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and simultaneously proving you can be impossibly wealthy and still come across like a really weird douchebag.

If you’re sensing that I don’t admire mankind’s 2,668 billionaires, you’re wrong. 

The hard work, creativity, entrepreneurship and intellect required to achieve such success strikes me as admirable and mind-blowing. 

Garcia, Arte Moreno, Bob Parsons and Jerry Moyes, entrepreneurs who earned mountainous fortunes themselves, are amazing stories. But I’m less interested in people who have made it once they get there than I am in people who don’t get there at all. 

There’s nothing wrong with fabulous wealth. Good for you, living the American Dream on steroids. But the uber wealthy don’t hold the same place in my heart as poor folks. Said another way, we spill a lot of ink about the 10 wealthiest Arizonans, but comparatively little about the 10,000 poorest. 

Every January, the Maricopa Association of Governments spearheads a “point-in-time homeless count.” 

On the night of Jan. 27, 2020, we had 7,419 homeless people in Maricopa County – 3,652 of them in shelters and 3,767 of them living unsheltered on our streets. The count even assembles a map of the homeless. 

While 63% live in Phoenix, the rest of the unsheltered homeless are spread out across the county: Tempe counted 396 people living on its streets that night; Mesa, 338; Glendale, 170; Peoria, 83. Scottsdale, so proud to be so ritzy, had 102 unsheltered homeless. Avondale had 56. Gilbert had nine.

The homeless don’t have publicists and they don’t sit for many interviews. With that said, staffers at the Andre House, a Phoenix homeless ministry, spent several months gathering 100 interviews from men and women sleeping unsheltered in Valley parks and streets. 

What did they learn? 

Two-thirds had been on the streets two years or longer. Half self-reported problems with substance abuse or chronic mental illness. 90 people out of 100 said they would enter a shelter if offered a bed, yet many reported they “disliked shelters that felt inhumane.” 

Most shared simple dreams: Finding a home, getting a job. 

Lots of people would line up to shake Elon Musk’s hand. Me, I’d rather meet Andre House’s homeless interviewee #80. 

“People gotta start somewhere,” said this nameless soul. “There isn’t anything that you can’t tackle. Even pain. Even loss. Even disease. Family. Friends. These people are resilient. But we still need guidance and help.”

Musk and Bezos are famously entranced by rocketing into space. Me, I’m more interested in human beings struggling to survive on Earth. 

David Leibowitz has called the Valley home since 1995. Contact david@leibowitzsolo.com