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Published: Wednesday, 7/28/2010

John Mellencamp plugs local homeless efforts

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

WINDSOR, Ont. - Toledo's homeless population got a friendly pat on the back - for the second time - from John Mellencamp when the Midwest rock star recorded several public-service announcements on its behalf in Windsor Thursday.

Nearly three years ago, the blue-collar rocker stopped in at Tent City in downtown Toledo where he spent time talking to the homeless. Yesterday, Toledo homeless advocate Ken Leslie and a small video crew met with Mellencamp in his hotel room before the star's sold-out concert at Caesars Windsor.

Amiable and scruffy, dressed in a plain blue T-shirt, jeans, and brown work shoes and chain smoking in the no-smoking room, Mellencamp, 58, said he traces his desire to help the needy and to fight for social justice to his teen years playing in a racially mixed soul band.

"It all started with race," he said. "We had a black lead singer and I saw the way people treated him."

He despised the hypocrisy and the double standards, and felt motivated to support the civil rights movement.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer from Seymour, Ind., helped Willie Nelson organize the first Farm Aid 25 years ago to benefit American farmers whose livelihoods were threatened by foreclosures.

Asked what advice he would give to someone who was homeless or facing the prospect of becoming homeless, Mellencamp said, "People give up too easily. I've been writing about that since I was kid. [His song] 'Jack and Diane' were about kids who just quit."

In a 40-minute interview and recording session, Mellencamp recorded two public-service videos, one for Toledo's Tent City Oct. 29-31, the other for the first World Homeless Day on 10-10-10.

He was interviewed for an article to be published in Toledo Streets, a newspaper that benefits and employs local homeless people.

Mr. Leslie, 53, of Toledo initiated the video project, trading numerous e-mails and phone calls with the Mellencamp camp for about two months before getting a confirmation Wednesday night.

The owner of a small executive-search firm in Toledo, Mr. Leslie has volunteered to help the homeless since 1990.

Mr. Leslie, a former comedian who traveled the nation's comedy club circuit from 1984-96, said he was homeless briefly in the 1980s because of alcohol and drug abuse, living in his car for about a month. After he got a flat tire, "I couldn't afford to fix it because I needed the money for booze and drugs," he said, "and one day they towed away my 'home.'•"

Mellencamp struggled a bit reading the text of the PSA as it scrolled on a computer screen, saying it was too wordy. "[Expletive], guys, this is like the Gettysburg Address!" he said. When Mr. Leslie asked him to tell it in his own words, the recording went smoothly.

The video cited Housing and Urban Development figures saying 640,000 Americans sleep on the streets or in shelters every night, and that the number of people in homeless shelters has jumped 30 percent since the foreclosure crisis of 2007.

Mellencamp also referred to his 2007 visit to Toledo's Tent City, saying it had a great impact on him.

The rock icon is set to release his 25th album, "No Better Than This," on Aug. 17.

Contact David Yonke at

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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