DETROIT — Scuffles erupted as thousands of Detroiters jockeyed, pushed and shoved Wednesday to get free money being offered to only 3,500 of the city's recently or soon to be homeless.
Several received medical treatment for fainting or exhaustion while frantically trying to obtain the applications for federal assistance. The long lines and short tempers highlighted the frustration and desperation that Detroiters feel struggling through an economic nightmare.
The line around downtown's Cobo Center started forming well before daybreak. Anger flared within a few hours as more people sought out a dwindling number of applications for the program.
Members of the Detroit Police Department's Gang Squad and other tactical units were called in for crowd control. Several people reportedly passed out from exhaustion and had to be treated by emergency medical personnel. Some minor injuries were reported, and no arrests were made.
"It's a sign of the times, and we can't deny we have people here who are in need," said Karen Dumas, communications director for Mayor Dave Bing. "It's scary and very disappointing. It also shows a need for redirection for our city."
One in four working-age adults in Detroit is without a job and the city's home foreclosure rate continues to be among the nation's highest. One in four families and three out of every 10 individuals live below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census.
Before Wednesday, Detroit Planning and Development workers already had spent two days handling long lines at City Hall and other locations. Rumors that $3,000 stimulus checks from the Obama administration spurred heavy turnouts.
That helped get 33-year-old William Lambert and his 27-year-old fiancee, Iesha Wagner, to City Hall on Tuesday. Lambert said he is out of work and living with Wagner at her mother's home.
"We kind of fell on hard times," he said. "It's hard working as a carpenter and then not working at all. It's not good right now."