Let ’em eat bratwurst

Feb 8, 2006 at 12:00 am

News Hits didn't make it to the big Playboy party out at City Airport or any of the other high-end affairs staged in conjunction with the bacchanal that is the Super Bowl. But we did stop by the Detroit Rescue Mission's shelter on Stimson Street Sunday night to check out the party for homeless folk being held there.

We saw about 100 people gathered to chow down on brats and sauerkraut as they enjoyed the game on two big-screen TVs. It was all part of the plan for keeping Detroit's homeless off the streets during the city's time in the international spotlight. Over the course of 10 days, the mission spent about $17,000 as its part in a coordinated effort to keep the ragged from bumming the big bash. The Super Bowl host committee kicked in a grand. We're told about 1,000 people passed through the mission's doors over the course of just a few days.

Despite a late start, Detroit's service providers were able to pull together a comprehensive plan for keeping Detroit's homeless — there are between 12,000 and 26,000 homeless people in the city each year — off the streets. Rescue Mission chief operating officer Chad Audi says he's satisfied with the way things came together.

"We wanted to create something they would want to do, make a place to go where they would be treated with respect," Audi says. "We wanted them to feel like they can enjoy the game without feeling like garbage."

News Hits sensed a mixed reaction among the people all this charity was directed toward. On one hand, they were being hustled out of sight. But, if you have to be hidden away, brats and big screens beat being dumped on the edge of town and left to fend for yourself. If nothing else, the effort dramatizes the need to come up with some long-term solutions.

"What would help me would be employment, education and job training," says Andre Williams, 27. After doing some jail time for selling drugs, Williams was released about three months ago with no place to go. The mission, he says, has been a "godsend."

Audi says the Rescue Mission has pledged to keep the stepped-up service going through at least April. He's hoping other organizations will be able to do the same. But for the six or so service groups involved in the Super Bowl scene to achieve that goal would cost about $50,000 a month, Audi says. As far as the city goes, "They're saying they want to support us. But we want to wait and see."

"I think what's going on now is a good deal if it leads to some long-term solution for dealing with homeless people," says Lawrence Baylor, 50, a truck driver who's been homeless since being laid off about a month ago. "It's like the Super Bowl is only good if its fruits are good — if it brings in jobs, if it helps the city's image. Other than that, it's just a sham."

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