Phoenix officers step in to help homeless man get off the streets

Posted at 10:43 PM, May 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-25 08:01:36-04

A pair of police officers stepped in to help a homeless man who had been down on his luck after a chance encounter in central Phoenix. 

Back in November 2017, Billy Walston was standing under the I-17 overpass bridge on Central Avenue.  

"I was highly addicted to meth," said Walston. "Standing with a sign, 13 years homeless."

He was roadside, begging for a buck when two Phoenix officers pulled up. 

"[He] seemed down on his luck, disheveled," said Officer Chris Gallegos. 

"I'm thinking I'm going to jail," said Walston, admitting that being in and out of jail was a common pattern in his life at the time. 

At first, it sure seemed like the confrontation would end with handcuffs. 

"I told him, 'you can't be here. It's state property. You're trespassing.' He gave a kind of smart aleck remark," said Officer Gallegos. 

"I said, 'It figures. Where can I be at then, sir?" Walston said. 

Officer Gallegos and his partner, Officer Benjamin Zamora, then made Walston a promise. 

"I said if you're serious about getting help, I can help you," said Officer Gallegos. 

The officers already had a suspect in their police vehicle and had to take that person to jail. But, they told Walston if he waited for them to return in 30 to 45 minutes they would help him -- and he said okay.

"I was tired of people burning me, tired of people messing with me, tired of people looking down on me," said Walston.   

Walston became homeless following a series of events that happened several years ago. 

It all started when Walston crashed a car while driving under the influence. He was badly hurt with the lower half of his right leg getting amputated. His brother was killed, and Walston went to prison and was abandoned by his mother and family.

Walston said he attempted suicide, then drugs, and ultimately landed on the streets of Phoenix. 

So on the day Walston met officers Gallegos and Zamora, he was finally ready to get help, so he waited.

"I was very surprised he was still there waiting for us because I've been doing this nearly ten years and very few times do people follow through when we offer help," said Officer Zamora. 

Through a program called Phoenix Cares and the Phoenix Rescue Mission, they got Walston a place to stay.

Most programs won't accept new residents with a record of a violent crime like the involuntary manslaughter charge Walston received after his crash. But the officers said they saw something in Walston that told them he was ready for help and they put their own reputations on the line to call in a favor. 

"We went to bat for him, called one of the social workers to get him into Rescue Mission," said Officer Zamora. 

Now, Walston is seven months clean and working towards getting a place of his own and a job. His self-worth is soaring and for the first time in years, he has hope because two cops decided not to arrest him. 

"I don't have anything to give them other than my thank you and I don't feel like that's enough," said Walston. 

"To me, helping Billy is a huge success," said Officer Zamora. 

Phoenix Cares isn't just available through police officers. Anybody who needs help can check out their programs by going to their website