Homelessness Marathon blog

... ending homelessness isn't a matter of charity, but a matter of changing the way our society is structured. -- Homelessness Marathon founder, Jeremy Weir Alderson, aka Nobody.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Back from Detroit

Abby, the Marathon's producer, and I were in Detroit last week, and it looks like Detroit will be the site of the next Marathon, though we havent made the official announcement yet. People have asked me what Detroit is like, and I am hardly an expert, having been there for only a couple of days, but I will say that it reminds me of the set of a horror movie. Many horror movies are set in abandoned mansions, because there is something macabre about that combination of past grandeur and present difficulty, a description that fits Detroit in spades.

Detroit has beautiful architecture and, based on our small sample, terrific people (wow, was there ever enthusiasm for the broadcast!), but you can drive past, say, a spectacular old church, the bombed-out-looking shell of a building, and a vacant lot in very short order. At times, the urban landscape reminded me of rural Mississippi, where so much is missing after Katrina, and Abby, who works in East St. Louis, said it reminded her or there too (and for that matter, it had similarities to East Cleveland as well).

Well, like I said, one visit didn't make us experts, but here are a few things we were told that made real impressions:

- That the police won't respond to a 911 call if someone breaks into your house, but only if there is "real bloodshed." (I'm sure this is different in different neighborhoods).
- That the worst hit neighborhoods haven't been rebuilt since the riots of the 60's, and that now the city isn't even mowing the grass on all the vacant lots, so you can hunt deer and pheasant on some of them.
- That people date the decline of the city back to the riots, which generated "white flight" and loss of capital. Obviously, the decline of the auto industry and the economic meltdown haven't helped, but there was definitely a feeling that the city had never recovered from the riots, and God knows, the riots, themselves, were caused, in part, by still earlier economic inequality.
- That more than 20,000 homeless people sleep unsheltered every night in a city with a cold northern climate.

In writing these things, I sure don't want to offend anyone who loves Detroit. We have an obligation to tell it like it is as best we can, because we're journalists, not boosters, but just the same, we're rooting for Detroit not against it.

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