Sunday, February 22, 2009

Give or take

I wrote a few weeksaor so ago about a homeless man standing by an off-ramp on the east side of Detroit, religiously. He stands there through rain, sleet and snow. He sits or stands in mud or sun-baked ground in sweltering heat, always holding a sign with a message that pleads for help.

I wrote that his mission takes commitment, rightly or wrongly, and I debated about whether to get involved. Well recently, I stopped and offered him a 2-1-1 card (to United Way's 24-hour helpline for assistance for people in distress) and gave him some money to make the phone call. That was weeks ago. Yesterday, as I passed by, in a snow storm, he was still there. Apparently, any help he could have gotten was not better than what he gets from his perch. I wondered whether he was sitting on the card and what used my money for. I can say that I tried.

I honestly believe some people don't want a ladder out of their situations, and he is one of them.

As fate would have it, I also believe others do, eventually, embrace the helpful hands they are offered. One of those individuals is Freddie, a homeless man aided by Southwest Solutions, a human service agency with its own community development corporation (CDC), in southwest Detroit. Harris caught the eye of one of the agency's employees, a guy named Steve. Steve is one of those people who you could call a fried of Detroit, who befriended Freddie and helped move him into one of the Southwest's redeveloped apartment buildings.

The project was novel in that the building includes art gallery space in the basement and a workshop for community residents, in an effort to create a sense of place for people in the area. It was a fortunate pairing, because in addition to being homeless on and off for the last 15 years, it turns out that Freddie is a talented, self-taught artist. Make that incredibly talented. His craft is drawing, and his specialty is characters and abstract designs.

Freddie told me he draws whatever comes into his head. He uses pen mostly (as in cheap ballpoint), on (cheap) notebook paper. He draws several works some days, none on others. That's because Freddie has a lot to deal with. Southwest is helping him with some mental and physical health issues, via its human service arm. He's taking the help offered to him.

Funny thing is, I discovered as he showed me his apartment, he's still getting used to life off of the streets. The last 15 years he passed by trying to survive in the neighborhoods of Detroit are just a part of the 30 in his life he spent without a permanent home. He doesn't use the furniture to sit or sleep on much, but he's getting along just fine. He's safer and getting the help he needs -- for the most part.

You see, he still has a few needs, but they have nothing to do with food, clothing or shelter. He needs art materials and supplies. He told me he'd like to have some help framing his half-dozen works hanging in the gallery of the building and the tools to create more. I'm going to help him out.

He hopes to be able to sell his works and build a business as an artist. I hope he succeeds, because he definitely has talent and I admire his ambition. I hope he maintains it.

I also appreciate people taking -- excuse me --accepting help, and making the most of it.

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