It’s been eight years since Muhammad Ali died, but somehow The Greatest is still providing inspiration to people who need it most.

On what would have been the champ’s 82nd birthday, a group of some of the finest chefs in Ali’s adopted hometown of Phoenix came to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and prepared a gourmet meal for homeless people.

It was a reminder of Ali’s never-quit legacy. He was knocked down several times, in the ring and in life, but he always got back up to finish the fight.

“This was his favorite crowd: the poor; the homeless,” said Jimmy Walker, a philanthropist who was close with Ali. “In his prime, he was the most recognized person in the world; the biggest celebrity of them all. And this was his crowd. This is who he loved.”

Homelessness has come to grip Phoenix and many of the largest cities in the West over the last decade. Skid rows have dominated local politics in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Phoenix.

Advocates connect the problem to skyrocketing housing prices and a lack of jobs that pay living wages, as well as long-standing drug addiction and mental health problems.

Events like Ali’s birthday celebration at The Human Services Campus near downtown Phoenix, where a massive encampment of homeless people known as “The Zone” was cleared out in November, are every bit as necessary as the more mundane work of providing medicine, beds and showers.

“We started this four years ago,” Walker said. “These are some of the best chefs in Phoenix. They volunteer their time.”

This year’s group included Marc Lupino of Steak 44, Vincent Guerithault of Vincent’s on Camelback, Mark Candelaria of Candelaria Design and Christopher Gross of Wrigley Mansion, alongside Chris Hoffman of St. Vincent de Paul.

“It’s encouragement,” Walker said. “Oftentimes, these people have such poor self-esteem. ... There are doctors, lawyers that are homeless. Something went wrong. Maybe it was a bad marriage. Maybe it was drugs. But they’re real people.”

Shannon Clancy, CEO of St. Vincent de Paul Phoenix, reinforced Walker’s message.

“We all want the best for one another, right? Think about what that does for our spirit, when we can enjoy a fine meal that’s made with love?” she said. “We especially should want the very best for the people who are struggling the most — to give them that lift of spirit.”

That’s what Ali was all about.

It’s been 50 years since he prepared for the “Rumble in the Jungle,” perhaps his most famous fight, by running through the streets of Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), with throngs of people jogging behind him, chanting in Bantu, “Ali, bomaye!” which translates to, “Ali, kill him!”

Ali was completing his comeback after being banished from boxing over his opposition to the Vietnam War.

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” Ali said at the time.

Why do we love Ali?Because we hated him first

He was reviled by the establishment and revered by common people the world over for his stance, which cost him his title and his fortune.

Ali was battered around the ring before knocking out the younger, stronger George Foreman, who had emerged as a menacing champion during Ali’s exile.

The comeback win was, by this point, an Ali signature.

Sonny Banks, Henry Cooper, Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier had all knocked down Ali in the ring by this point, but he got off the mat to win each of those fights except one. He lost to Frazier in the “Fight of the Century,” but they fought twice more with Ali winning each.

“That goes a long way with me,” Anthony Campos Jr. said. “Not only did he get knocked down, like a lot of us here did, but when he got back up, he was able to finish it and come back to the top.”

Campos lost his home after a recent divorce. His ex-wife has custody of their four sons, and he didn’t want to burden his family members, who already help with the kids.

He lives at the Human Services Campus and volunteers as a facility assistant, helping to feed other people without homes. Campos has been using the campus resources, which includes a unique post office where people who don’t have addresses can receive mail.

Campos said that he has a job lined up once he gets a new Social Security card, and he’s looking forward to getting back into stable housing.

He stood next to a massive birthday cake, donated by Chateau Luxe and pastry chef Charlene Dete, underneath a mural of Ali.

It will take more than a birthday party to help most of the 900 people who visited the meal hall Wednesday. The number of people without stable housing has nearly doubled in Maricopa County from about 5,600 in 2017 to more than 9,600 in 2023, according to government statistics.

It’s getting worse.

Advocates say that for every one person who gets into a home, another two end up on the street.

Ali might want everyone to do their part, as he did.

“He was a big contributor here,” Campos said. “He was here every Monday, from what I heard.”

It would have been Ali’s 82nd birthday, and he’s been gone for eight years, but somehow, the champ is still doing much of the giving.

Reach Moore at gmoore@azcentral.com or 602-444-2236. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @SayingMoore.

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Chefs served homeless folks a meal fit for Muhammad Ali

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19.01.2024

It’s been eight years since Muhammad Ali died, but somehow The Greatest is still providing inspiration to people who need it most.

On what would have been the champ’s 82nd birthday, a group of some of the finest chefs in Ali’s adopted hometown of Phoenix came to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and prepared a gourmet meal for homeless people.

It was a reminder of Ali’s never-quit legacy. He was knocked down several times, in the ring and in life, but he always got back up to finish the fight.

“This was his favorite crowd: the poor; the homeless,” said Jimmy Walker, a philanthropist who was close with Ali. “In his prime, he was the most recognized person in the world; the biggest celebrity of them all. And this was his crowd. This is who he loved.”

Homelessness has come to grip Phoenix and many of the largest cities in the West over the last decade. Skid rows have dominated local politics in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Phoenix.

Advocates connect the problem to skyrocketing housing prices and a lack of jobs that pay living wages, as well as long-standing drug addiction and mental health problems.

Events like Ali’s birthday celebration at The Human Services Campus near downtown Phoenix, where a massive encampment of homeless people known as “The Zone” was cleared out in November, are every bit as necessary as the more........

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