Young mayors Jimmy Davis, 11, left, and his sister Alisa Davis, 7, both of Oregon, prepare to give out toys to children in the clothing tent. Toledo's Tent City, an annual weekend to bring attention to the homeless, in Toledo, Ohio on October 29, 2011. For the first time, the mayors of Toledo's Tent City are a family. The four-person Davis family of Oregon, despite both parents working, were homeless for a period in 2007.
Jimmy Davis is an 11-year-old mayor.
Sure, his office is a tent and his political favors take the form of Happy Meal toys, but still — he’s come a long way since the days when he and his family were homeless.
Jimmy and his family are the mayors of Tent City, the annual event taking place this weekend at downtown’s Civic Center Mall. And in many ways, it really is like a city. It has a barbershop, a doctor’s office, a clothing store, a restaurant, even a concert venue. Yes, it’s all housed in tents, but you can’t beat the prices: Everything is free.
Ken Leslie, the event’s organizer, stood in the village’s center Saturday afternoon as a disc jockey played an R&B hit followed by the “Hokey Pokey.” About 1,000 people had visited Tent City so far, Mr. Leslie said, not including the 600 volunteers who help put on the event.
The intent is twofold: to provide practical help for those who have lost what he called domestic autonomy and to show solidarity around the event’s founding principle that everyone matters.
The Davis family — which includes Jimmy’s 7-year-old sister, Alisa; his father, Jim, and his mother, Michelle, all of Oregon — is going all out for the event this year, camping in a tent behind the Safety Building.
Volunteers Bridget Willeman, of Toledo, left, and Michael Williams, also of Toledo, dancing to the Electric Slide with other people at Tent City.
Like all good politicians, the mayors of Tent City have a clear campaign message.
“We want people to feel like they’re not ostracized,” said Jim Davis, 37. “It can happen to anybody.”
The family knows that truth firsthand.
In 2007, Mr. Davis was making $9 an hour as an emergency medical technician in Fremont.
His wife, 35, was making minimum wage at a day care in Oregon.
But their combined incomes were so small that they fell behind on their bills.
They received an eviction notice, then the electricity was shut off.
On that day, Mrs. Davis called Family House, an area shelter that allows families to stay together as they struggle to get back on their feet financially.
They stayed there for only a month before getting financial help from Washington Church in West Toledo and moving into a new apartment, where they fell behind on rent again.
After that, they moved in with relatives in Youngstown.
There, Mr. Davis went back to school and became a licensed practical nurse.
He now works at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, and his family once again has a home.
Still, the impact on Jimmy was noticeable to his parents.
“Jimmy had some security issues,” his father said.
He would sometimes ask his teachers if he could bring food home, his mother said.
“At age 7, he wanted to contribute to the family in ways he couldn’t,” Mr. Davis said.
But on Saturday, Jimmy was reveling in helping others.
His favorite part, he said, was volunteering in the clothing tent, where he gave away toys donated by McDonald’s.
Across the lawn, in the medical tent, people could have their blood pressure screened and receive flu shots. Doctors on hand wrote prescriptions.
There were also a haircut tent, a food tent, and plenty of social service agencies offering assistance ranging from obtaining birth certificates to receiving mental health counseling.
“It’s really an opportunity for people who don’t have the means to figure out how to achieve domestic autonomy,” Mr. Davis said.
But the best part of the event, Mrs. Davis said, is that “people who wouldn’t normally mingle all come together.”