What do you know about Detroit? You probably know it is home to the recovering Detroit Lions NFL team, Eminem and his infamous 8 Mile, and to the downturned automotive industry struggling to recover since 2008. You probably think of it as crime-ridden, empty, or forgotten. Don’t be afraid to admit it, for as much as it is partially true many others think the same way. But did you know that it is actually a vibrant city with a deep-seeded history in music, night life, and athletics – and still is?
Being from Northern Michigan, I had a similar conception of Detroit. Growing up, I would quickly drive in for a baseball game at Tiger Stadium, or an indie rock concert at The Fillmore, and quickly hop back onto I-75, and drive home hoping to not make a wrong turn that would lead me to a dangerous neighborhood. Yet it all changed two years ago after I took the time to volunteer, study, and temporarily reside in Detroit. Through my experiences of working in community urban gardens, homeless shelters, and talking to young and old Detroit natives working to rebuild their beloved city, I discovered that there are some very important things left in Detroit: Pride, Commitment, and Hope. And now I am proud to say that my idea of Detroit has changed – and it’s time yours does too.
But what’s the problem? Why is there a stigma associated with Detroit? Is it the over publicized crime, drugs, or lack of manufacturing jobs? Dare we even discuss “white flight” or education injustice in such a politically-correct charged day and age? Yet no matter what controversial aspect of the city that you’re still stuck on, it all leads back to one major issue the city is facing: homelessness. In terms of urban living, everything tends to be cyclical and consequential: the education system to the job market, the job market to the economy, and the economy to the individual. And in Detroit, the snowball effects of unemployment to inflation to drug problems are working together to create an alarming rate of homelessness. According to the National Survey of Programs and Services for Homeless Families in Michigan, Detroit had the third highest number of both homeless individuals (11,913) and persons in families (6,149) in the country and over one-third of the city’s residents are living below the poverty level. (www.icprwb.org) Numbers such as these are shocking, and at times disheartening.
It is clear that Detroit has the spirit and drive to get back on its feet. It is ready for a movement. It is ready and waiting for the next generation to set aside its false biases, take hold the reins, and creatively solve the economic, political, and social problems Detroit faces with compassion and respect for the city’s rich history and resources.
But what can I do as an individual? What can we do as Michiganders, Midwesterners, or as a nation to fight the abrasive and snowball effects of homelessness? The first thing to do, as I have discovered, is to change our perceptions. I encourage every one of you reading this to take the time to do some quick research on the city’s history – it’s quite vibrant. Learn about where it came from, what it’s created, and why it’s in the shape that it’s in. Also talk to those people who have a first-hand experience in the city. Read blogs, newspapers, Tumblrs, Twitter feeds – anything you can get your hands on to get a fresh and accurate perception of the city. By engaging in learning about the city, or any city across the United States that is facing this issue, we are able to overlook our past biases, and move forward in helping those in need.
Next is to take action. If you want to make a positive impact in Detroit, or your own community, you must be proactive. Especially when it comes to helping end homelessness, there is a lot of work and volunteering to be done. Search out the shelters, missions, and organizations that give back to your community; yet make sure you do so out of compassion, understanding, and hopefulness. For instance, KNO Clothing’s partnership with the 100,000 Homes Campaign is proving to be a powerful force in the city. Recently, the campaign has focused on serving and providing housing for Motor City’s veterans.
Detroit, like many other cities stricken with homelessness is an amazing city filled with equally amazing people – and homeless or not, they deserve all of the respect and integrity that can be provided. By changing our perceptions, reaching out, and lending a hand, we as a new generation can change the Motor City, state, or country. Get active, get involved, and learn something about where you came from – you won’t regret it.
About the author: Amber is the KNO Marketing and Sales Associate for Summer 2012. She studies Business Law at Albion College.