Detroit’s homeless treated to Red Carpet luncheon

Oralandar Brand-Williams
Eric Ebron, right, says, "I'll give you my autograph after you take this bag of food," to Jaylen Nevitt, foreground, 9, as his mother, Jasmin Bennett, background-right, 36, and Burnetta Taylor, left, 45, all of Detroit, wait to take a picture with the Lions’ player.

With winter weather just around the corner, Leon Odom is concerned about making sure he has a warm place to lay his head each night .

Odom, a 50-year-old unemployed brick mason and autoworker, is among Detroit’s estimated 20,000 homeless individuals who scour the streets each day for hours at a time looking for food, toiletries and other amenities that most take for granted. And said Odom, free bus tickets, are prized possessions for the city’s homeless who walk to appointments far away from their shelter.

Odom says life as a homeless person is a difficult and a stressful balance of seeking out assistance while making sure you get to a feeding program in time to be fed or risk missing a meal because he arrived too late.

“I may not look it but I have no income and I’m homeless,” said Odom Saturday as he packed away items from the fourth annual Red Carpet Backyard BBQ for Detroit’s homeless. “Trying to find a job while being homeless is hard.”

On Saturday, 300 volunteers and representatives of 40 organizations came together during the Annual Detroit Red Carpet Backyard BBQ to provide the city’s homeless with a hot meal, bags of food to take with them and a chance to meet with social services groups and organizations that could provide resources for them as well.

The event, held at Detroit’s West Riverfront Park, was organized by the The Shu Foundation and its chair and founder local businessman Robert Shumake. He was joined by corporate and non-profit partners such as Forgotten Harvest, Radio One and Matrix Human Services, to host the event.

“We’re all connected in this cause of giving,” said Shumake Saturday.

Brandon Pettigrew, left, shakes hands with Carl Floyd, right, 49, of Detroit. XXXXPlayers from The Detroit Lions attend the 4th Annual Red Carpet Backyard BBQ for the Homeless and Hungry at West Riverfront Park in Detroit, Saturday, October 3, 2015, as volunteers serve food. (Todd McInturf , The Detroit News)2015.

Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron, who attended the event with teammates Brandon Pettigrew , Casey Pierce, Tim Wright and Galen Duncan, director of player development, said Saturday taking part in the event to help the less fortunate was special because “we’re all from at least the same beginnings.”

“We’re always going to give back because we know how it is,” said Ebron.

Shumake, who said he was homeless as a youngster, said the event is growing into the largest feeding event for the city’s homeless. He estimated about 20,000 people have been helped through the Red Carpet luncheon for the homeless.

“We give them a meal that you would have at your own house,” said Shumake. “Everybody deserves to be treated like a VIP.

Odom said he is racing against time trying to find a permanent place to live once his 9-day limit is over at the east-side shelter where he’s currently staying.

Experts and others who work with the homeless say while the numbers are not growing, persistent homelessness continues to plague the city of Detroit and its metro area.

Eric Hufnagel, the executive director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, said homelessness stabilized since three years ago but shelters are starting see homelessness among the older population and the working poor.

“Earnings are not keeping up with housing costs,” explained Hufnagel. “Unfortunately we are not seeing a recovery in respect to homelessness.”

And the demand for beds far outweighs the availability of temporary housing, says Frankie Piccirilli, the interim chief development officer at Coalition on Temporary Shelter on Peterboro near downtown Detroit.

“There is always a demand,” said Piccirilli. “It is a very rare time when we are not turning people away.”

Piccirilli says COTS, which offers family shelter, is seeing more working poor than ever before.

“There’s a high percentage of people who come through our doors who are working but can’t afford housing,” said Piccirilli. She estimates that cost of living in Michigan would require a person who lives on a minimum-wage income to have three full-time jobs that pay minimum wage to make a living.”

John Anderson, a 65-year-old retired autoworker, said he became homeless last year after the home he shared with a friend caught fire.

Anderson is staying at the Operation Get Down shelter on the eastside. He was happy to see the attention homeless individuals and families received at Saturday’s event.

“I think it’s beautiful,” said a soft-spoken Anderson.

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