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Volunteers at annual Tent City connect people in need to services

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    Trey Houston, right, shows a blanket he chose for his friend's baby during Tent City at the Civic Center Mall in Toledo.

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    Richard Duran searches for a hoodie inside the clothing tent during Tent City at the Civic Center Mall in Toledo.

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    Frank Coley gets his hair cut by Clay High School cosmotology student Emily Zacharias during Tent City at the Civic Center Mall in Toledo.

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    Homeless veteran James Lee Jozwiak, right, talks to volunteers at Tent City downtown.

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    Homeless veteran James Lee Jozwiak at Tent City downtown.

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Trey Houston, right, shows a blanket he chose for his friend's baby during Tent City at the Civic Center Mall in Toledo.

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James Lee Jozwiak, a combat veteran, stood silent Saturday morning and pointed at the Lucas County jail to explain his homelessness.

It's been about eight months since he's been on the streets and living in a wooded area of East Toledo. He has grass and dirt encrusted on his clothing, head, and left ear to prove it.

“I had a home, I had a job, but 15 days in jail, I lost my job, which I can’t blame my boss for, okay, but losing my job meant I couldn't pay my rent,” Mr. Jozwiak said. “I worked construction ... plumbing, electrical, heat, you name it.”

Wearing full camouflage, the 54-year-old was among hundreds of homeless people at the annual Tent City event for Toledo’s disadvantaged, poor, sick, and forgotten held at the Civic Center Mall downtown.

VIDEO: Tent City

Mr. Jozwiak, a Toledo native, shows a scar sweeping across his shoulder when talking about his military service.

“Army. I was field artillery, filed communications specialist. Eight years,” he said. “I did Afghanistan. Damn near got my arm ripped off.

“I’ll be all right. I'm glad to see this out here because this is helping a lot of good people.”

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Frank Coley gets his hair cut by Clay High School cosmotology student Emily Zacharias during Tent City at the Civic Center Mall in Toledo.

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Tent City is a rain-or-shine campout with the homeless where people can get medical help, clothing, haircuts, or just a hot meal.

Doctors, dentists, opticians, nurses, shelter-operators, religious groups, and social service agencies donate time to help.

Cherry Street Mission Ministries, Goodwill Industries, A Renewed Mind, Mobile Meals, Zepf Center, Family House, Lourdes University, several Toledo and Lucas County agencies, and Lifeline Ministries were among the organizations present for the weekend event.

Homeless advocate Ken Leslie, who created the group 1Matters and, in 2012, its splinter group, Veterans Matter, said the theme for this year is employment.

“Everyone who comes down here takes something away – whether it is a volunteer, a sponsor, social services people, the guests – all who come down have their own value they take away,” Mr. Leslie said.

“For some it is friends, for others it is a new job, for others it is housing, but for all of them, it is community – people coming together in this beautiful love that is Toledo.”

Mr. Leslie created Tent City in 1990 to bring awareness to the city's homeless population.

Jacob Smith, a Detroit native who said he has been homeless for about a year, said he felt loved with the simple act of a getting haircut and beard trim.

“You can't tell, now that my head is shaved clean, but I was looking pretty haggard, pretty rough,” Mr. Smith said. “People would look at me in fear and I didn't really blame them.”

His medical workup was better than he expected.

“High blood pressure,” Mr. Smith said. “I can live with that, I guess.”

His story was repeated throughout the day, as homeless people obtained simple services most people take for granted.

Mohamad Kanan, a University of Toledo junior, and his fraternity brothers spent time with children at one tent while their parents did things like find free clothing, see a doctor, obtain a copy of their child's birth certificate, or get a haircut.

The health screenings have included free mammograms and HIV tests.

“We are playing football, painting, or doing things like jump rope while the parents are doing their thing,” Mr. Kanan, 20, said.

Contact Ignazio Messina at imessina@theblade.com419-724-6171, or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.

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