DetroitJanuary 14, 2010Jon Brooks 1 Comment »
In December, the Detroit News reported that the unemployment rate of the city, officially at 27%, was really closer to 45%. Here’s a nicely observed blog post from Detroit native M. Hannington about some of the people on the lowest rungs of the city’s economic ladder.
Their names are Pinky (she likes to dye her hair pink) and Pointy (his winter hat is so tall I wonder if the hair underneath matches).
I see them around all the time, but we have never really interacted. So I have given them names.
Closer to home, there is Chris, who is bi-polar and can’t always get his meds. White and blonde, he says the others sometimes tease him as he waits in a parking lot for day jobs. There is Brother Michael, not quite right, but functional and he comes and goes, but sometimes does yard work for me.
They are all the victims of another recession at another time when many of the state’s mental institutions were closed. They survive on the odd job, return money from bottles found and the handout…
From 1987 until the mid-90’s I had a regular bottle man. He would come and collect my returns once a week. An alcoholic, he lived with family and in and out of shelters for most of his adult life. I’ll never forget the paper-like feel of his hands and the scars that he said came from sleeping outside.
Clean for many months, he was finally able to, with a relative, get a home of his own. I never saw a happier man.
He died shortly afterwards.
You wouldn’t have known that he was only 58 years old.
In downtown Detroit the panhandlers are different now.
They introduce themselves and shake your hand. They tell you their stories. The overused “I’m just trying to get bus fare home” is a thing of the past. I wonder if it is because they are so new to the game, the politeness? Or is there a sense that we are more connected.
All of us in the same boat…
On a recent trip to the Detroit river front, Red Sox Steve and I ran across half a dozen men fishing for Walleye, which is in season from March until June. Many of them are elderly and in scooters having been dropped off for the day by family or perhaps navigated the long dirt path to the river on their own.
Owen Park looks more neglected than usual, it is only half mowed and in the place of the oil drums painted kelly green that serve as trash cans are instead piles of trash. It is typically empty on weekdays and it’s a rare sight to see so many men out fishing during the work week. One wonders if this is a new way for them to put food on the table. How long can you survive on fish and unemployment? Are they destined for the streets too?
There are the lucky ones. If you can call it that.
The man in the wheelchair, who worked 8 Mile Road for a decade. 8 Mile has long been known as a dividing line between wealthy white suburbanites and poor urban blacks. The wheelchair was a prop, an aid to making a living. He was hit by a car that broke both his legs and his arm. He walks with a limp now, but the insurance company paid a nice fat settlement and he is living large.
My neighbor’s sister. On the street with her son, unwilling to reach out to family. Now stricken with cancer and fighting to live. She has found them and a home again.
What will it be like a year from now. Ten years from now?
Where will these people call home?