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Mellencamp coming back to Tent City

Singer who inspired group to visit before concert here

  • Founder-of-Toledo-s-Tent-City-sings-praises-for-rock-star-s-visit

    Mellencamp visits Tent City in 2007.

    THE BLADE
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    Local homeless advocate Ken Leslie says singer John Mellencamp will visit Toledo’s Tent City event.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer John Mellencamp will make a return visit to downtown Toledo’s Tent City before his concert at the Stranahan Theater on Oct. 21, and Jordan Reses Supply Co. has pledged $300,000 more to help house and employ veterans.

Local homeless advocate Ken Leslie told The Blade those two separate announcements will further raise the profile of the group he and others founded nine years ago, 1Matters.

The group was formed in response to a comment Mr. Mellencamp made at a Toledo concert in the fall of 2007 after he accepted Mr. Leslie’s invitation to visit Tent City, a weekend camp-out and service event for the homeless that was created in 1990. It has been held annually except for a brief time it went on hiatus.

The singer, who met for an hour inside a trailer with four people Tent City had helped, said he was impressed by the city’s compassion. He told a couple of staffers accompanying him to go get some free tickets to his concert; they came back with nearly 60.

During his show, Mr. Mellencamp addressed some of the homeless guests in his audience, telling them not to give up hope because everyone’s life matters.

That comment became the inspiration for 1Matters.

Mr. Leslie has used that anecdote several times over the years to remind people about the power of hope. He said Sunday night events from that visit in October, 2007 — when Mr. Mellencamp took time out of his schedule to visit Tent City, look people in the eye, and offer words of inspiration during his concert — turned out better than if he’d simply written a check and moved on.

That anecdote, along with an announcement of Mr. Mellencamp’s plan to return and a one-minute video promotion for 1Matters, is on the singer’s website, mellencamp.com.

1Matters has raised more than $1.5 million to help the homeless, about $1 million of which for its offshoot group, Veterans Matter, Mr. Leslie said.

Veterans Matter has now housed 1,148 formerly homeless veterans in at least 12 states, gaining support from Mr. Mellencamp and a list of other celebrities, from singer Katy Perry to the rock group ZZ Top.

That figures include more than 200 locally, most with help from the Lucas County Veterans Service Commission, Mr. Leslie said.

Jordan Reses, a medical equipment distributor based in Ann Arbor, has become one of the group’s biggest supporters.

The company has been a major sponsor of past Honor Flights that took World War II veterans to see the memorial that was erected in Washington in their honor.

It recently announced it will donate $200,000 to house homeless veterans, and $100,000 as seed money for the new Veterans Matter Training and Re-Employment Program. Under the program, financial incentives will be offered to companies that hire formerly homeless veterans served by the U.S. government’s Veterans Affairs.

Though Tent City has been around for years, other programs undertaken and supported by 1Matters owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Mellencamp, Mr. Leslie said.

“We have been blessed by his support,” Mr. Leslie said. “All of that goes back to his visit.”

Veterans Matter strives to cut through red tape and make payments necessary to get homeless veterans set up in modest apartments immediately while they wait for their Veterans Affairs benefits to kick in, or until they get their finances back in order some other way.

One veteran helped by the program, Robert “Bur” Pulliam, 55, of South Bend, Ind., told The Blade in May that Veterans Matter “got my confidence back to where I felt like a human being again.”

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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