Let’s Get Serious Amid Fun, Games

by | Jan 27, 2006 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

For most of my life, charity meant writing a check.

But a few years ago, a former professor of mine scolded me for not doing more. He told me if you’re in the public eye, you can rouse people to action.

So today, with your kindness, I’m going to try and do that, because I heard a story a few weeks ago and I couldn’t get it out of my head.

The story, in essence, was that, with the city’s encouragement, a local homeless shelter was going to offer a three-day “party” over Super Bowl weekend that would provide food and a big-screen TV – and would also cut the visibility of our most downtrodden citizens.

Other Super Bowl cities tried similar ideas. Many defend it as being a good host.

Personally, I kept thinking about Feb. 6, the day after the Super Bowl. I had this vision of the shelter doors opening, and hundreds of homeless people being nudged out into the cold, essentially being told, “Party’s over. Good luck.”

That really bothered me. So I called the Detroit Rescue Mission, on Third Street in Detroit, where the idea had originated. And I spoke to Chad Audi, the chief operating officer.

And then I went there.

Out of sight, but not out of mind

What I saw would break your heart and give it wings. Lines formed before sunset, dozens of men in dirty sweatshirts, old coats, worn-out shoes. They had to line up in an alley, because, Audi says, the city doesn’t want lines of homeless folks visible from the street.

Even at a shelter, they have to go in the back door.

Once inside, the men were given a bed, a hot shower, an offer of new clothes (or to have their own clothes washed) a warm meal, some time in the chapel – only if they wanted – and finally, a night of shelter from the cold.

In the morning, they would be given breakfast before being advised of various programs offered around the city.

“We can’t stay open all day right now,” Audi says. “We’re not set up for it. And we don’t have a mental health specialist, which is what we really need.”

While I was there, I met a man on crutches named Johnny (Ringo) Smith. He is 47. A few years ago, he was dropped off at the shelter’s door, a drug addict with a criminal history.

“I needed help,” he told me. “I had to understand why I was doing drugs. … They gave me help, a place to stay. … I’ve been off drugs since October 2001.”

He is now on the shelter staff.

If we can spend $60,000 on shrimp and booze …

So, OK. Here’s my thinking. Why should people like this get a phony Super Bowl weekend of heightened kindness, then be scaled back?

Why not do what this “party” weekend was supposed to do, but do it all winter?

So say hello to “S.A.Y. Detroit”- which stands for Super All Year. Not Super next week. Not Super Sunday. Super All Year.

The goal is to raise $60,000 by kickoff. With that, Audi says, he can do all of the following until mid-April:

  • Keep the shelter open 24 hours.
  • Add 30 new beds.
  • Get a 24-hour-a-day van with a trained staff member to respond to any phone call and pick up a needy individual.
  • Add a mental health worker to the staff.

I know we can do this. With all the money floating around this city next week, it seems a sin if we don’t. People will spend $60,000 in one night on shrimp and booze. How can we not keep the least of us warm until spring?

A phone number: (313) 826-0111. They take credit cards. Yes, it is tax deductible.

An address: S.A.Y. Detroit, 29836 Telegraph Rd, Southfield, MI 48034 [updated]

I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I wouldn’t, so the first check written was mine.

S.A.Y. Detroit. Call me naïve. But I think this is a way to make the Super Bowl a lot more than a fleeting game. Thank you.

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


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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