A few weeks ago, I woke up one morning with a real pull on my heart. There were a few things that happened that all tied together. First, we just signed a lease for our rental property with a woman that has two young daughters who for multiple reasons had to walk away from her home in Detroit. She wanted to get out of Detroit and bring her daughters to a safer neighborhood where they don’t hear gunshots and fear break-ins and attacks. At church the night before, they mentioned how urban Detroit has been rated the poorest urban center in the country. When we went to bed that night, I could hear the cold rain pelting the windows and was thinkful for our home. All these things connected in my head and I started to think about the hundreds and thousands of people that have no home and live/sleep on the streets in the freezing cold. The next morning, I read an article online about how more and more people/families are becoming homeless due to lost jobs and other financial difficulties:
Cheridy and I always pray about ways that we can use the gifts and resources that we’ve been blessed with to make a difference.
That morning I felt a strong calling to use what we have to raise awareness around Michigan and maybe even the country about the people of Detroit. I had no idea what that meant or what we could do about it, but I sent an email out to a number of people and within 24 hours, I was connected with a group of people from my church who happened to run a barbeque every month with homeless folks in the detroit area. The goal is to sit and fellowship with some of those folks and just talk and get to know them while sharing a meal. This gathering provided a great opportunity for us to start getting acquainted with the area and the situation in Detroit. What we wanted to do is to use the gifts and connections that we have to create something visual which we can then use to help spread the word about what’s happening down there along with ways that people can help. Soon after sending out my email, our friend Don Pham from Take One Productions emailed back and said that he would do some video and then he signed up Jamie Honce who is another exceptional videographer. Due to the weather changing the date of the first barbeque we planned on going to, we ended up going today. There are 4 churches that rotate having the barbeques and this one was hosted by Orchard Ridge Church.
The four of us along with my good friend Pete headed down there not really knowing exactly what our goal was or what type of video and photos we would be able to get. We spent the first hour just driving around the city to have a look around and get a few environmental shots. I was definitely pretty nervous (and I know I wasn’t the only one) because we were way out of our comfort zone. The idea of driving through bad neighborhoods with expensive camera gear with the hopes of finding and interviewing some of the folks down there was a little scary. We stopped here and there to take a few shots but I didn’t take a whole lot as I was still getting my bearing and trying to think through what I wanted to do.
The first thing I noticed in the area we were at was the amount of abandoned buildings and houses along with the insane amounts of trash everywhere. It was very depressing. I’ve been down to Detroit many times and I never really thought too much of it, but now I was looking at it from a different perspective as the people that live there were on my mind and my heart.
We saw one guy sitting by himself on the side of the road and Cheridy and I approached him and struck up a conversation. It was definitely a little nervewracking for me as it was difficult to strike up a conversation with someone that you don’t know that’s in a seemingly different world from you. We talked to him for a bit and explained to him what we were doing but he didn’t want to be bothered so we left him alone and moved on. After driving around a bit more, we ended up going over to the barbeque as it was mostly setup and going now. Again, we found ourselves way out of our comfort zone trying to start up conversations with people. I was shot down pretty quick and I looked over and not surprisingly, Cheridy was already laughing and talking with two people. Their names were Allan and “Ma” and although Allan liked the idea of what we were doing, he was too embarrassed by his current situation to want get photo and video of himself. What we were doing obviously required a lot of tact and respect but we also just needed to find the right people.
The next person I talked to was Terry and he was very friendly and outgoing and after talking with him for a few minutes, I let him know that we were wondering if we could ask him a few questions on video and get some images of him and he was ok with that. Our goal was to really get to know some of these folks and start to hear some stories about their life.
This is Terry:
Terry used to be a drug dealer (pretty good at it!) many many years ago and was put in prison for 15 years and has been out for 5 years now. He is 50 years old and doesn’t have a place to call home. Sometimes he has enough money to stay in a cheap hotel on the coldest of nights but most of the time not and he sleeps in the park. His mother is elderly and he doesn’t want to burden her with his circumstances as it would cause her more worry and he doesn’t want to add to her situation. Terry has diabetes and has troubles finding money to pay for the very expensive medications that are required. He knows that he brought a lot of problems, drugs and hurt to the detroit area when he was dealing drugs and he seems like he has a desire to do what he can to balance out the negativity of his legacy with volunteering and doing for others before doing for himself. It was really interesting hearing a homeless man talk about how he does volunteer work. We could all learn from him! He knows one way or another he will go to school and get a job someday. He needs a basic job to pay for school and to get a job he needs ID. He was just able to save enough money to get a copy of his birth certificate but he needs a second piece of ID to be able to get a job and that’s very difficult. If he is able to raise enough money, he then needs to decide if he is going to eat that day, find a warm place to sleep, or get the ID. What a daunting decision!! The challenges of attending school and finding a job are many: need ID, need an address for things to get mailed, need a phone to have them call you back, need bus fare to get to the job, etc. One of the other challenges that he posed is that when you’re homeless, you have all your stuff with you. You can’t bring all your stuff to your job which means that you need to find someone trustworthy to watch your stuff. His story just seemed like he was in a big pit and no matter how hard he tried, there were too many obstacles knocking him back down. It was really heartbreaking. He knows that he got himself into this situation and he knows that he messed up in his youth. But he his pride, vision, and determination and we’re just going to pray that he gets a break.
Terry said that pretty much everything that he and his friends have were donated by good people and without those donations they would have no clothes and no food as most of the shelters are over capactiy. He said that people don’t have to “give big” to help. A pair of gloves, a scarf, rolls of toilet paper…people remember those who gave “small”. “Oh, that’s the gal who gave me those gloves” or “that’s the guy who gave my kids their winter jackets.” That’s a nice reminder that you don’t have to try to give 1000 people a meal but how about 1 woman a hat? How about 2 kids chalk to draw and play on the sidewalk? Please help!!
While interviewing Terry we were visited by Thaddeus (aka Pony because of his long hair).
Thaddeus also found himself in prison but we weren’t told why and didn’t ask. He is also on the streets, sometimes he can find $10 to give to a woman who lets him stay there for a night but if he doesn’t have it she puts him out. Mostly he finds himself in an abandoned building with 2 other people. His recall of the building came down to one sentence, “that place is scary” he says. If a grown man, who lives on the streets and has been in prison, has to stay in a place that even HE finds scary, there must really not be many options. He wishes that he could get all the kids out of youth homes (troubled kids who have been “busted”) and help them get out of the cycle of trouble and he wishes there were better role models than just the “Dope” guys. He said the kids look up to these drug dealers because they have money and flashy clothing and will give them $50 for selling their drugs. He says he doesn’t drink and isn’t on drugs but has one addiction – pop (Faygo Pineapple, to be specific!) He knows that people don’t want to give money for him to buy food because they see other people buying booze with the money but he knows there are a lot of people who are really hungry and would really appreciate the gift. He can’t believe this is where he is because he wasn’t raised this way. He grew up in a nice middle class area, went to school and just never saw this as his life.
As I mentioned earlier, we don’t know where this project will take us and we don’t know what God wants us to do but we’re just going to keep our eyes open for opportunities and wait for a door to open. We hope that we can help raise awareness of the situation in Detroit and make people realize that these are our neighbors. It’s much easier to forget about them, but Jesus called us to love our neighbors. To be honest, the situations that we saw in Africa and Nicaragua were even worse as out there, there is NOBODY to give donations. When they’re just a few miles away, it should be expected that we help out as best we can. One way to help out would be to go down to Detroit and see for yourself. The next barbeque being put on by a group from our church is on December 20th and you can learn more about it on their facebook event page:
Please sign up and help out. If you have any thoughts or ideas related to this blog post that might help, please post a comment or send me an email.