Detroit Spruces Up for the NFL Draft, But What About Its Unhoused Residents?

Remember when, on the weekends, your mom would go all out cleaning the house if special guests were expected, or perhaps even bring out the expensive china for dinner? Well, think of Detroit doing the same thing. For decades, the city has grappled with an issue of excessive numbers of unhoused individuals, especially noticeable in the downtown area. Now, as Detroit prepares to host hundreds of thousands of visitors for the NFL Draft this week, a significant question arises: What will happen to Detroiters experiencing homelessness during this event?

As of the end of March, there were 52 people living unsheltered in the downtown area, according to estimates from street outreach teams provided by the Homeless Action Network of Detroit (HAND). With the influx of crowds and the complications of road closures, the potential displacement of these individuals has become a pressing concern for homeless service providers.

The City of Detroit assures that there is a plan in place for those facing homelessness who may be impacted by the event. In the past year, the city has enhanced its safety net—featuring 24/7 street outreach and an increased number of shelter beds—efforts that will continue well beyond the NFL Draft, city officials and service providers have indicated.

The NFL Draft, taking place from April 25-27, is expected to be one of the city’s most significant sporting events in decades. Its footprint will stretch from Campus Martius to Hart Plaza, and road closures have already started. However, amid the excitement and economic influx, the reality remains that the unhoused population will continue to face their day-to-day challenges even after the event concludes and the city reaps millions in revenue.

In a bid to mitigate some of these challenges, the nonprofit Metro Food Rescue is actively seeking volunteers to help collect food for social service agencies as part of the NFL Draft in Detroit. This initiative will involve picking up prepared and unserved food, drinks, and snacks from vendors and catering services in the NFL Draft area until May 6. Metro Food Rescue anticipates collecting enough food to provide as many as 30,000 meals, making it the largest single event the organization has tackled. This rescued food will be distributed among local organizations that are experiencing an increased demand for food assistance.

Being unhoused in Detroit is not a new phenomenon—it’s a reality that has persisted for years and has become a familiar sight for the city’s residents. However, it’s critical to acknowledge that this issue should not only garner attention when the city is under the spotlight due to events like the NFL Draft. These moments serve as a crucial reminder to take inventory of our societal conditions and recognize homelessness as an enduring problem that demands consistent attention and action, not just when we have guests to impress. This is more than a matter of city image; it’s a test of our collective moral compass, urging us to address and alleviate these hardships as a community.

In Detroit, the presence of the unhoused is a long-standing issue that tends to be overshadowed until major events bring a surge of visitors to the city. This recurring visibility should not be what sparks our concern; rather, it should be the recognition that the crisis of homelessness is a persistent reality that needs more than temporary solutions. It is during these high-profile occasions that we must reflect on our moral responsibilities. This is not just about cleaning up the streets for the sake of appearances; it’s about fundamentally caring for our fellow citizens and implementing sustainable solutions that uphold the dignity of every individual in our community.

As the excitement of the NFL Draft fades and Detroit gears up for other major events like the Grand Prix, it’s crucial to ask: What does the future hold for those who need it most? With ongoing events drawing attention and resources, what are the provisions for food and shelter for the city’s unhoused population? Detroit, how are you planning to assist and ensure sustained support for these vulnerable individuals beyond the fleeting spotlight of big events?

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