Community rallies after death of homeless woman in neighborhood

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

The accidental death of a woman who had been living on the streets for years has had a somber impact on a north-central Phoenix neighborhood. 

According to police, Anita Collins, 52, wandered into traffic on Glendale Avenue near Second Street in Phoenix and was hit by a car. She was rushed to the hospital where she died. Police do not suspect any wrongdoing by the driver of the car, and they say that driver is cooperating fully with the investigation.

Tammy Martyn has lived in the area for about three years and said Collins was a fixture in the neighborhood.

“I saw Anita almost on a daily basis. If a day went by and I didn’t see her, I wondered where she was,” said Martyn.

Dozens of other area residents might not have known her name but they knew and interacted with the “Safeway homeless woman,” as they called her, or the “homeless woman with the most beautiful blue eyes.” 

“She was somebody who we always would keep an eye out for. We always would try to reach out to her when we could, when we’d see her in the Safeway parking lot, offer her food or water. Especially in the sweltering heat when it was 115 degrees out,” said Tina Lopez, who also lives in the area.

The homeless population is often a topic hotly debated on social media and on neighborhood apps like Nextdoor. Many times, discussions are related to the nuisance of the homeless and the increased in crime many believe accompanies that population. But the dialogue surrounding the death of Collins on the Nextdoor app for the north central neighborhood is overwhelmingly positive.

More than a hundred entries talk of the sadness and sorrow surrounding her death. Many of the entries tell stories of people seeing her nearly every day somewhere along Glendale Avenue. Other comments talk about people offering her water or food and how mild-mannered and quiet she was. 

“I always knew that this was a special area. I’ve always loved north-central Phoenix. But this really solidifies my feelings about it because, I have to tell you, the Nextdoor app and the outpouring of love and compassion and empathy and support for Anita is really mind-blowing,” said Lopez.

Police indicated that Collins had no known living relatives. The neighborhood is planning a meeting for 8 a.m. Saturday, Oct 21 at Scott’s Generation at 742 E. Glendale Ave. It is important to the neighborhood that Collins gets the dignified burial they believe she deserves.

“People don’t want to just see her thrown away because she is part of our landscape. She is part of our community and we want to make sure that she has dignity and that she’s not an invisible piece of the landscape. She was a part of our thread of who we were as a neighborhood and I think that people really want to make sure that she has a proper a proper burial and a proper send-off,” said Lopez.

Many of the comments on social media also express thoughts and prayers to the person who hit Collins.  

“That has got to impact your life. And I know me, I’m always like, 'oh, it’s my fault' and it’s not. It’s just not. I couldn’t imagine being in their position. Keep them in our thoughts and our prayers. They need it right now,” said Martyn.

There is a small memorial of flowers, candles and a white cross with the name “Anita” inscribed on it near the bus stop on the north side of Glendale Avenue and 2nd Street. It’s a place where Collins was seen all the time, sitting on the bench, not waiting for a bus, just being part of the community. A community that will clearly miss her.

“She was just somebody who I think everybody just felt connected to in some way,” said Lopez.

Some are hoping her death sparks discussion and action about the plight of the homeless in the community.

“A lot of the people that you see on the streets that are facing these issues of homelessness, who don’t have a place to go, are there because of untreated mental illness. I work in the homeless field and on any given night there are 5,000 homeless people on the streets in Maricopa County. It’s obviously something that we all are aware of and that we are passionate about,” said Lopez.

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