Homes for the Homeless – Van Gogh’s Bedroom Part 4: My walk from Detroit to Toledo

Note: Van Gogh’s Bedroom is a plan to create “Homes for the Homeless” in INTERdependent live/work communities using surplus city-owned materials (tunnel rings). 

In September I wrote that the tunnel rings were saved. I was wrong.

I regret to report that by the time you read this, most of the tunnel rings will have been destroyed. This is in spite of the fact that Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) management were provided with a suitable alternative to their destruction.  We provided a viable design and a generous offer from Evan Weiner, CEO of the Levy Group to supply the needed crushed aggregate at cost.

Given the state of our (Detroit’s) finances it is difficult understand how the destruction of millions of dollars worth of usable construction materials to create tens of thousands of dollars worth of little rocks.

It is especially difficult in light of the help that these segments could have provided for many of Detroit’s homeless population.   Decisions of this nature have a more devastating effect on those who are already in a housing or financial crisis.

Despite the efforts of private citizens and appeals to DWSD Management, the Board of Water Commissioners, Mayor Bing, COO Chris Brown, Detroit City Council, U.S. Senate Candidate Pete Hoekstra, and even Governor Snyder we still find ourselves not able to help those who need it most.

My Walk to to Toledo

When I don’t know what else to do, I walk.

There are correlations between untreated mental illness and homelessness. In my desperation to get this issue in front of the right people I walked 51 miles from Detroit to Toledo Ohio.  I figured since candidate Mitt Romney would be there it would be a good opportunity to get this on the radar of someone who could possibly make a difference.  I was hoping to bring awareness to the presidential candidates of the need to restore mental health care and care for the homeless, and to get Mitt’s help in trying to save the remaining segments.

Two years ago, I walked 685 miles from the State Capitol in Lansing to the White House. Along the way, many postcards were sent to the President from me and people I met on the trail, asking for proper care for the mentally ill and disabled, especially children affected by fetal alcohol exposure. Many of these children will become homeless. I have two adopted brothers who are affected which is, in part, why I’m so passionate about this issue.

Last August, on my way to Detroit from Vancouver to ask for the segments, I stopped at Little Big Horn, the site of Custer’s Last Stand. It was a moving experience. On the second day of my walk to Toledo, I passed Monroe’s monument to Custer, “Sighting the Enemy.”

Mental health care and homelessness are “all hands on deck” issues.  There has to be community, State, and Federal engagement.

During Ronald Reagan’s second campaign, homeless advocate Mitch Snyder went on a 51-day hunger strike to bring government awareness to the need of care for the homeless. His campaign was a success. My hope is that we can find ways to be successful as well.

My walk to the White House occurred during Michigan’s gubernatorial race. The invitation was extended to both Snyder and Hoekstra to walk a mile with me (both refused).   To his credit, after winning, Governor Snyder did not make cuts to the mental health budget his first year and proper prenatal care (that means no alcohol consumption) was added to his education reform plan.

As individuals we can change political leaders’ agendas by broadening their view and understanding of the issues that affect us and our communities. That is what we must do.

In a twist of economic irony, Governor Snyder is planning to give Magic Johnson the 165-acre Michigan State Fairgrounds site “for nothing.” Yet, the city (DWSD) chooses to pay for the destruction of these tunnel segments rather than repurpose them as housing for some of our homeless and mentally ill residents.  This makes no “sense,” or “cents.”

With no shortage of issues of social and economic injustice I plan to keep walking until Election Day and will post updates on the Thrive Detroit website.

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