Homeless outreach ramps up during record cold
Detroit — Outreach groups in the city are stepping up efforts to find refuge for the homeless as dangerously cold temperatures continue to grip the region.
Cass Community Social Services normally patrols Tuesday through Saturday but are now out on the streets seven days a week with more staff due to the frigid temperatures, said Kevin Giles, who heads the nonprofit’s mobile outreach.
“We have designated spots we go to and engage with folks we think need help ... we bring them back to our center until we can place them at one of our partnering shelters,” Giles told The Detroit News as he prepared to head out Friday for an eight-hour shift.
Most, he said, are reluctant to accept help and instead stay where they are and sleep on heat vents.
“We still stop, make sure they have what they need and check on the people that don’t go with us regularly to make sure they’re still alive,” Giles said.
The service agency’s mobile outreach team also hands out blankets, gloves, food and makes individuals aware of nearby solutions.
“Some people will tell us they’re not homeless, they’re just hustling trying to get some money,” he said.
The city of Detroit is also working to ramp up assistance, urging volunteers to join numerous patrol groups this weekend, canvassing as many areas of the city as possible.
The Detroit 300 Community Action Team said in a statement that it was dispatching patrol shifts from Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries from 6 p.m. to midnight Friday through Sunday.
More than 150 volunteers turned up Friday night at the mission to help reach out to those who may be in need, said Terra DeFoe, a senior adviser to Mayor Mike Duggan.
“It was more than what I was expecting,” she said. “The public heard what we were doing, and they wanted to volunteer.”
Friday marked the coldest day of winter so far as Detroit hit minus 4 degrees and had a high of 6 degrees, said Trent Frey, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in White Lake Township.
On Saturday, the crisp, cold air will hover, keeping temps around 11 degrees at most with wind chills that will make it seem like it’s below zero for the entire day, according to the weather service.
If Saturday’s predictions hold, it will make 12 straight days of Metro Detroit registering below 20-degree temperatures. That would break a record dating back to 1979, weather officials said.
At least four deaths in Metro Detroit this week were attributed to the dangerous weather conditions.
Two women in Macomb County and a third from Orion Township succumbed to the cold after wandering from their homes.
A fourth person, Dwayne Johnson, was found Monday in front of Shady Grove Missionary Baptist Church on Detroit’s east side. Police said they believe that he too had frozen to death.
Danny Armstrong, who has worked at Cass services for several years, said Friday he’s been on the patrol team for three months and said the group has seen “awful things” but tries to do their part to save lives.
“We picked up a guy yesterday who was stuck waiting to ride the bus all night and couldn’t move his legs,” said Armstrong, of Detroit. “...We picked him up, put him in the van and after his legs warmed up he was able to walk, but if we didn’t, we would have lost him.”
During their route, the team found Kenneth Bryan sitting at a Subway restaurant on Woodward and Clairmont.
They gave Bryan, who is homeless, two pairs of gloves, food and socks after seeing the skin on his hands was cracked from the cold.
To stay warm, Bryan said he sits in the Subway until they close and then goes to the 24-hour laundromat to sleep.
“I don’t want to go to a shelter because they’ll have to kick me out and I’m used to this,” said Bryan, 83.
Detroit resident Jeremiah Chappelle has spent the last four years dedicated to his own effort to help the homeless.
Through his organization Everybody Matters, Chappelle and a few volunteers have dropped off food to the homeless every night.
Chappelle, 41, spends his days working at a Downriver maintenance job and his nights picking up donated food and taking it to Mexicantown, Corktown and the city’s downtown where homeless congregate.
He then distributes the ready-made food and records it on Facebook Live. He says cold doesn’t even describe what these people are going through.
“They’re scared they’re going to freeze and die and I’ve found numerous people dead in this cold,” he said.
Chappelle said he launched his own effort because he doesn’t agree with city partnerships and contends they try to “clean up the streets while national cameras are here during the auto show.”
“It’s frustrating and I hope I’m setting an example of what people can do on their own,” Chappelle said.
DeFoe rejected the assertion, saying “you’ll always have someone to combat anything a government entity does.” The patrols, she added, are focused in city neighborhoods, not Detroit’s downtown.
“We’re supposed to work together,” she said, adding Chappelle is welcome to join in their efforts.
The city also has been collecting donations for the homeless, coordinating entry into shelters and warming centers and providing grants to service groups to house and transport those who need assistance.
Chappelle said he wants to show people what it’s like to be homeless for a week during the Detroit auto show and will be “living homeless” from Jan. 20-28 with a constant live feed and hidden cameras on him.