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Toledo's 25th annual Tent City event a big hit

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Volunteers Jenny King, of Toledo, second from left, and Jan Archambeau, of Whitehouse, cutting hair at Tent City. Getting haircuts are Zidarion Wooden, 5, left, and Mary Siders, both of Toledo.

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Close to 1,000 people visited Toledo’s 25th annual Tent City event today, with free medical screenings and treatment, free meals and haircuts, and live entertainment. 

“This [event] helps me survive,”  said Juan Barcenas, 53, of Toledo, who sat down to finish his meal as he lifted his face to catch the sunshine. “Also, it feels good to hear the music and see the people.”

The free three-day event, which brings awareness to homelessness and connects people in need to services, runs this weekend in downtown Toledo, with Jackson Street closed between North Erie and North Michigan streets.

It began Friday evening with a walk to benefit veterans in which about 300 people participated, organizers said. Today’s events at the Civic Center Mall began with breakfast at 7:30 a.m., then activities ran all day, with haircuts and medical screenings until 4 p.m., with free lunch and dinner at noon and 5:30 p.m., and live entertainment running into the night. 

PHOTO GALLERY: 25th annual Tent City

“Tent City is going great so far,” said LaVette Miller, 45, of Toledo, who was chosen as Tent City’s honorary mayor. “It raises awareness of homelessness and of un-housed vets.”

Ken Leslie, Tent City’s founder, said he knows the needs of “the homeless and the under-served” firsthand, because he once was an alcoholic and a drug addict and, as a result, was homeless for about a month during the 1980s.

“So I keep it very real and honest,” Mr. Leslie said. “I know what it is, being homeless. And I can talk to them about where they are and where they can go.” 

Mr. Barcenenas said he has lived in Toledo for 23 years, working on-and-off in construction and tree trimming, staying ”sometimes at the Cherry Mission and sometimes with friends.” A participant in past Tent City events, he got free meals and a flu shot today.

As of 2 p.m. today, the event had served about 900 people since 9 a.m., Mr. Leslie said. More than 500 volunteers help out, he said, which allows Tent City “to maintain the level of services the community needs.”

Dr. Richard Paat of Perrysburg, a clinical professor of internal medicine at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences who led the event’s medical services, said about 50 medical volunteers, including 10 doctors and physician’s assistants and about 40 nurses and medical students, were on hand to provide treatment for diabetes, mental-health issues, hypertension, infections, and even broken bones.

“We have to give it back,” Dr. Paat said. “In our community we’ve been so blessed with lifestyles that we have, with the education we’ve been given, so we have to pay back. And the need is so great -- you just have to turn around and see who needs help.”

A community pancake breakfast begins at 7 a.m. Sunday, followed by a Reflection Service at 10 a.m. and closing ceremony at 10:45 a.m.

Contact Mike Sigov at: sigov@theblade.com, 419-724-6089, or on Twitter @mikesigovblade.

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