It’s been nearly a year since Jayce Gregg had a paying gig.
Before the pandemic, he worked various artistic jobs: musician, DJ, and painter.
“Electronic music shows, festivals, weekly raves, like in the desert,” he told ABC15. “As well as selling my art, my paintings. Go to First Fridays and a lot of gatherings down in central Phoenix.”
He lived the life of an artist. Now he lives the life of a homeless person.
We met Gregg off a main road in the desert where he has set up camp. After a quick hike deeper into the desert we arrived at his tent with a still-smoldering campfire just a few feet away.
If you didn’t know otherwise, it looked like he was camping for leisure, not necessity.
Gregg said it became necessary around Thanksgiving when he could no longer afford the room he was renting in a Mesa house.
“I was not on the lease and was just paying, basically the other roommates,” he said.
Gregg was out of money after weeks of not receiving his Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) payment. Congress created the program to provide unemployment money to gig workers, freelancers and workers who normally would not qualify for regular unemployment.
He began receiving payments in June, but he says they stopped in August. He said that delay lasted six weeks before he received a lump sum in back payment. But by the end of September, the payments stopped again.
“I've sent them all my tax forms everything they wanted and they still tell me you just have to wait. Just have to keep waiting. And 14 weeks later, I'm still waiting,” Gregg said.
The Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES), which administers the program, has stopped and started unemployment benefits of thousands of Arizonans while it works to eliminate fraudulent claims. At one point the agency was looking into 1 million potential fraud claims.
For two months, Gregg an Air Force veteran, has been living in a tent in the desert.
“I don't have any other options other than homeless shelters or places like that that I've been to before, and it's not a good environment. It's just a place to get lost in circles and I'm not trying to do that. I'm sorry,” he said.
So spends his days searching for a cell signal to call DES and to call friends for a ride to light rail and look for jobs on the route since his motorcycle broke down a couple of weeks ago.
Aside from restoring his benefits, Gregg said a job is what he would really like but being homeless makes it tough.
“Where am I gonna take a shower? Or am I gonna wash my clothes? When your day is a whole day is spent finding firewood for that night and how you're gonna eat that day, it's hard to look for a job.”
Still, he said he is qualified to do more than DJ and paint.
“I'm pretty smart. I have experience in telecom. I was a crypto linguist in the Air Force,” he said.
For now, he is prepared to keep camping until festivals come back, he finds a job, or PUA comes through.
ABC15 contacted DES on Gregg’s behalf. He confirmed that Friday, he spoke with an adjudicator about what he needs to do to resolve his claim.