Tent City focuses on vets, women

More services to be offered at this year’s event

Nick Morse, a fourth-year nursing student at Mercy College, calls for the next patient at last year’s Tent City.  Activist Ken Leslie says  free mammograms will be offered this year to women.
Nick Morse, a fourth-year nursing student at Mercy College, calls for the next patient at last year’s Tent City. Activist Ken Leslie says free mammograms will be offered this year to women.

Tent City, the annual campout in downtown Toledo that aims to foster relationships between the housed and unhoused, will promote more services for homeless military veterans and women when the 2013 version of the event takes place at Civic Center Mall, Oct. 25 to 27.

First up is the 1Mile Matters walk from Promenade Park to Tent City, led by some of the veterans housed by the Veterans Matter program. It starts at 6 p.m. and kicks off the weekend-long event that wraps up sometime Sunday morning.

One of the veterans leading the race will be Joe Markowski, 49, of Maumee, a 1982 Waite High School graduate and East Toledo native who was a corporal in the Marines from 1984 to 1990.

Mr. Markowski said he was able to move into government-subsidized housing earlier because of the Veterans Matter program, which helps veterans pay for their first month’s rent, security deposit, and other fees they need while waiting for benefits from the Veterans Administration and the U.S. Housing and Urban Development.

The goal is to reduce the time that otherwise homeless veterans would spend out on the street. The program is described in a video at veteransmatter.org/​video/, in which 1Matters cites a HUD statistic claiming that as many as 60,000 veterans are homeless.

“Why has it become acceptable that these soldiers who fought for our freedoms are being abandoned on the streets of our nation, where they are sometimes robbed, beaten, or killed?” Ken Leslie, 1Matters and Veterans Matter founder, is heard asking on the video. “If that happened behind enemy lines, we’d be outraged.”

Veterans Matter is affiliated with the homeless-awareness group, 1Matters. The program has helped 140 veterans in 28 cities in four states since its February, 2012, inception, Mr. Leslie said.

It is supported by celebrities such as Dusty Hill of ZZ Top, John Mellencamp, and Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn.

“I was genuinely touched by the effort Ken Leslie made to get a roof over my head,” Mr. Markowski said, explaining a period in which he was broke. “It really touched my heart.

"I can’t tell you how much that meant to me at the time. It was a difficult point of my life. I’ll be forever grateful.”

Mr. Markowski said this will be his first Tent City, and he said he is eager to spread the word.

Tent City has provided services other than food and clothing to the needy for years, from haircuts to dental care.

This year, thanks to a grant from the Komen Foundation, it will offer free mammograms to women in need, Mr. Leslie said.

“We’ve expanded women services completely,” he said. “Medical’s going to rock this year.”

Many of the medical services are being provided by ProMedica, Mercy Health Partners, the University of Toledo Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio hospital, and the Mildred Bayer Clinic for the Homeless.

Tent City provided $180,000 worth of services over the course of its 2012 weekend event.

This year, organizers are counting on 560 volunteers, mostly from church groups and businesses. All but 100 slots have been filled, Mr. Leslie said.

Clothing donations are being accepted at the Cherry Street Mission Ministries’ Lifebridge Center, the former Banner Mattress warehouse at 3342 Monroe St., or at Crossroads Community Church, 6960 Sylvania-Petersburg Rd., Ottawa Lake, which is off U.S. 23 less than a mile from the Ohio-Michigan line.

More information is available online by going to 1matters.org and veteransmatter.org.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.