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What’s Next? How Detroit Stays Super

One man wrote he was going to bet $25 on the Steelers, but he figured the homeless could use the money more.

One woman wrote: “My husband is laid off, but we have food to eat and a warm house to sleep in.” So she sent a check.

Letter by letter, heart by open heart, what began as a small notion became a large reality.

“Now what?” a reader asked in this newspaper Tuesday. The Super Bowl is over. The hype is gone. “Now what?”

Here’s what.

Today, at 2 p.m., inside the Detroit Rescue Mission on Third Street, a group will gather to announce the overflowing generosity of people here and around the world.

More than $150,000 has been raised for S.A.Y. Detroit, a charitable concept to help Detroit’s homeless that we started less than two weeks ago.

One hundred fifty thousand dollars! Most of it came in 10’s and 20’s. Some of it came from Seattle, Anchorage, Ireland – even the United Arab Emirates. Some of it came from grandparents, children.

And all of it came because people couldn’t bear the idea of rounding up the homeless during the Super Bowl, then putting them back in the street.

Help on the way for less fortunate

Now what? Here’s what. Originally, I only had sought to raise $60,000. That money was supposed to last until spring, to help one particular shelter. But when the cup ran over, I figured we should spread this thing around.

So today, as men gather in an alley to line up for a bed, we will announce:

•The Detroit Rescue Mission will get everything we hoped to give it until spring: funding to stay open 24 hours, a mental health worker, 30 more beds and a 24-hour van for pickups.

•The Capuchin Soup Kitchen will receive enough money to buy milk for all its hungry for the rest of the year.

•COTS, the Coalition On Temporary Shelter, will be given money to help construct a licensed day care center for infants, so that their homeless mothers can search for work or seek treatment.

•Cass Community Social Services will get 150 new mattresses for its shelters.

And that’s just some of it.

Walk a mile in their shoes

Remember, the idea of S.A.Y. Detroit is in its letters: Super All Year. We saw the best that we could be last week. But a city that is super just for a weekend isn’t very special come Monday.

Maybe that’s why the Lions – who brought Super Bowl XL here – are writing a check. So are the Pistons, the Tigers, the Red Wings and the Ilitch organization.

Maybe that’s why Shield’s Pizza offered to put collection cans in its stores and designate proceeds from selected daily pizzas.

Maybe that’s why “Jimmy Kimmel Live” agreed to let us auction off the desk that Kimmel used here all week. (You can bid on it right now, at 313-993-4700.)

Maybe that’s why, with Chad Audi, the chief operating officer of the Detroit Rescue Mission, I am proposing a program called “One Night In Their Shoes.” This will enable anyone who wants to spend one night in its shelters – men’s or women’s – as I did last week, to do so as well (with supervision and safety).

I know if people get to see what I saw, to share a meal or a conversation with the real homeless – not someone’s caricature of them – the stories will spread.

You’ll see that being homeless isn’t always about being crazy or drunk. As one widow wrote, “If it weren’t for loving family members, I could be homeless, too.”

There is still much to do. To help:

The phone number: 313-993-4700.

The Web site: www.DRMM.org.

The address: Detroit Rescue Mission/S.A.Y. Detroit, 150 Stimson, Detroit 48201. Yes, it’s tax deductible.

Thank you. Thank you 150,000 times. And if someone asks, “Does any Super Bowl city do anything besides clean up after the game is gone?” you know what to say.

Say Detroit.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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