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Published: Thursday, 10/25/2012

Campaign to aid homeless grows up around Tent City

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE COLUMNIST

Tent City is a game-changer for many people. The annual downtown camp-out with Toledo’s homeless, to be held this weekend, peels away layers of indifference that keep people from seeing each other as humans.

To its credit, though, Tent City isn’t the novelty it used to be.

Over the years, it has helped advance Toledo’s empathy. Although the war against poverty is far from over, Tent City has done its part to help foster better relations between the haves and have-nots since its founding in 1990.

Little by little, it has broken down stereotypes and gotten goodwill to seep more pervasively throughout the community, showing what resilient hearts can do.

You can see the spirit of Tent City in Food for Thought, an interfaith program through which many churches have provided sack lunches to homeless people each Saturday since 2007 outside the Main Library in downtown Toledo. Along with its stationary pantry in Oregon and a mobile pantry, Food for Thought serves nearly 38,000 people a year, including 1,200 families.

You can see the spirit in the Lifebridge Center at 3342 Monroe St., where people in need can get used clothing and other household items for free. Operated by the area’s largest homeless shelter, Cherry Street Mission Ministries, the center was founded by Gary Resnick, who owns a local dry-cleaning chain. Now, instead of taking clothes to Tent City, donors are encouraged to take them to LifeBridge, where they are distributed year-round.

You can see it in 1Matters Project Connect, a day-long event in Findlay on Saturday that is modeled after Tent City.

Tent City was founded as the Homeless Awareness Project, the forerunner to 1Matters. The Toledo event went on a six-year hiatus a decade after it began.

It has found its legs since it resumed in 2006. Donations are strong enough this year that $150,000 worth of services, from haircuts to medical exams, will be provided.

Tent City founder Ken Leslie, who once was homeless, attributes the creation of 1Matters to a 2007 concert in Toledo by singer John Mellencamp. Mr. Mellencamp visited Tent City on his way to the show, then said during the concert how it reminded him that everyone matters.

This year, Mr. Leslie carried that theme to an affiliated program, Veterans Matter: We Take Care of Our Own. It fills a niche for homeless veterans in counties in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, by providing them a deposit and the first month’s rent for low-income housing subsidized by the Veterans Administration and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Mr. Leslie is proud that, unlike other programs caught up in a web of bureaucracy, Veterans Matter went from conception to reality in 11 days. Members of the rock band ZZ Top are spokesmen for a national awareness effort launched by 1Matters, called 60,000 Soldiers Housed. Mr. Leslie cites a 2011 HUD survey that determined that America has 67,495 unhoused veterans, of whom 27,462 are unsheltered on the streets.

Tent City and its affiliated programs get support from the Mildred Bayer Clinic, ProMedica, Mercy Health Partners, the University of Toledo Medical Center (the former Medical College of Ohio), and other high-profile institutions.

Rock and roll has become a key ally in the local war against poverty. For the second straight year, rock photographer-promoter Harry Sandler is selling some of his best work as part of a special exhibit at 20 North Gallery on St. Clair Street. Proceeds go to 1Matters.

Concert tickets and meet-and-greet opportunities are lined up with Justin Bieber, Carrie Underwood, ZZ Top, and principals behind a Detroit show that features The Who’s Quadrophenia. Past 1Matters public service announcements featured celebrities such as Mr. Mellencamp and Crystal Bowersox.

To carry out the vision of Tent City, 1Matters sponsors mile-long runs, concerts, and art exhibits. It publishes three street papers written and sold by homeless people: Toledo Streets, Groundcover News in Ann Arbor, and Thrive Detroit in Michigan.

Tent City is part of1Matters’ awareness campaign. It continues to be an important expression of this community’s outreach.

Tom Henry is an editorial writer and columnist for The Blade. Contact him at: thenry@theblade.com



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