Tent City and homelessness debate at city hall

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(pictured: LtoR: Mayor Mike Duggan, Chad Audi)
Michigan Chronicle editor Bankole Thompson sat down with Dr. Chad Audi, CEO of the Detroit Rescue Mission, following their meeting last week with city officials for the ongoing debate over the Tent City saga in downtown Detroit. Following are excerpts.
Michigan Chronicle: What do you make of the way the Tent City saga ended last week?
Dr. Chad Audi: I am glad it finally ended because in such subzero temperatures, being out there in the park is squarely endangering one’s life, especially when there are suitable shelters nearby. I visited the encampment many times and tried all I could to convince the campers to take advantage of our shelters. I sent our van there twice daily to take them to our Detroit shelters but they refused to leave. As an organization, we place immense value on human life, dignity and wellbeing. Every life is too precious, too valuable to be allowed to freeze in subzero temperatures. So we wanted the encampment saga to end to avoid loss of life, and the City of Detroit has obligation to enforce relevant ordinances and to protect life and property.
MC: But the city took them to a hotel instead of shelters like yours.
CA: Yes, but remember, the campers refused to go to the shelters, perhaps because we set healthy and helpful rules and regulations for residents. The Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM) and other service providers in and around this city offered repeatedly to take them to the shelters. That’s what we do at DRMM – we take adequate care of homeless people.
Our doors of help and hope are always open. We do not turn anybody back, and we do not stop at giving the homeless hot meals, shower and safe accommodation. We also provide them needed counseling services, substance abuse treatment, skills training and job search assistance, all of which help them regain their dignity and become responsible and tax-paying members of society.
MC: How then did you react to the allegation by the Tent City spokesman that Detroit shelters are infested with lice?
CA: We are always happy to take members of the news media, elected officials and community leaders on a tour of our shelters in Detroit and Highland Park so they can see things for themselves.
On Thursday, Jan. 8, we extended an invitation to the City Council (Brenda Jones, president) to tour our facilities, and on Friday, Jan. 9, Mayor Mike Duggan visited two of our facilities – an all-male emergency shelter and transitional housing facility, and a treatment and transitional housing facility for women and children. He praised the work of shelters in this city. Mind you, he did so after speaking directly with a number of our residents who gave him accounts of how our facilities have made a big difference in their lives.
MC: So are you saying your facilities are not infested with lice?
CA: Yes! I am saying our facilities are not lice-infested. We use Tempur-Pedic mattresses that defy lice. We are CARF-certified and have good standing with the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions – a national body. I am inviting you and your news media colleagues to come and see things for yourselves.
We maintain high standards in all our facilities and have qualified and well-motivated members of staff who are dedicated to our mission of changing the precious lives of homeless, hungry and hurting people in our region.
MC: How many homeless people do we have here in Detroit?
CA: About 2.4 percent of Detroit’s population is said to be homeless. That’s considered high, especially when compared to other major cities like San Francisco with 1 percent homeless population. But we — all the stakeholders — are working very hard to drastically reduce the rate of homelessness in Detroit.
MC: There has been a major push nationally and locally towards Rapid Re-Housing. Is that the answer?
CA: Rapid Re-Housing has recently become the magic wand for ending homelessness. I can tell you this: It does not work in many situations. I can recommend it in properly assessed cases of involuntary homelessness caused by home foreclosure or destruction of a home by fire or natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Ike.
Individuals and families affected by such unfortunate situations are often ready to move into a home. That’s certainly not the case when they are chronically homeless due to drug addiction, mental illness or simply a lifestyle of panhandling. Then they are not ready to move into a home. A methodical transition program, which we provide here at Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, is appropriate for them.
We prepare them to eventually move into their own permanent housing when the underlying causes of their homelessness have been adequately addressed with the help of their case managers, therapists, skills development instructors and job developers, among others.
By the way, as part of our 2015 MLK Day service to the community, we will surprise a very low-income Detroit family with a home and a car at noon on Friday, Jan. 16, at 138 Stimson Street. That’s MLK’s “beloved community” in action.
MC: Do you have hitherto chronically homeless individuals who are now living in your permanent housing facilities?
CA: Yes! We have a good number of them, and we consider them part and parcel of our ongoing success story as a 105-year-old organization. They earn income by working in the community and consequently fulfill their obligations to society. That’s why I often say that our job here is to help people make the needed transition from a state of incoherence, indignity and hopelessness to that of stability, clear focus, dignity and valued productivity.
In fact, some of our managers here at DRMM used to be chronically homeless. Today, they help to transform the chronically homeless.
MC: Finally, what do you think is missing in the whole homelessness debate in Detroit?
CA: I think it is the fact that many of us are one or two paychecks away from homelessness. During the Great Recession, we saw erstwhile corporate executives who, upon losing their jobs, also lost their homes and cars and quickly expended their savings. That’s why everyone should be involved in efforts to drastically reduce homelessness through good policies, good service delivery, good neighborliness and good corporate citizenship. Homelessness is not just a problem that directly affects people who are drug addicts or mentally ill; it can also directly affect a company executive who lost his job – and by extension his loved ones.
Let me also add that homelessness does not require a one-size-fits-all approach. Each case is different in some ways, which is why we provide our valued residents with counsellors and case managers, among other dedicated professionals. We also help them with needed spiritual support since we are a Christian organization.


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