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article imageChaos at Cobo Center: 35,000 line up for housing help in Detroit

By Kay Mathews     Oct 9, 2009 in Politics
Thousands of Detroit residents lined-up to get an application for federal stimulus money designed to help them avoid home foreclosure, "rebound from homelessness," or pay utility bills. Some passed out from exhaustion, others gave up.
According to the Detroit Free Press, "Folks are out of work, out of money and running out of hope."
The desperation in Detroit resulted in 35,000 people lining up before dawn on Wednesday for the chance to get an application, due next Wednesday, for federal stimulus funds to help them "avoid foreclosure or quickly rebound from homelessness." The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program also provides funds to help with utility bills.
Some were confused about what the program entailed, thinking that they would be eligible for immediate cash assistance.
Still, however, as few as 3,500 may actually get help from the stimulus program because funding is limited and there are strict income requirements.
The number of people at the Cobo Center indicate the need in Detroit. ABC News reports the following:
*More than one in four working adults is without a job
*One in four families live below the poverty level
*Three out of every 10 individuals live below the poverty level
*Detroit's foreclosure rate is among the nation's highest
Long lines, short tempers, dwindling numbers of applications, frustration and desperation converged at the downtown convention center.
At the Cobo Center in Detroit, it was necessary to call in the Detroit Police Department's Gang Squad and other tactical units to help with crowd control. Emergency medical personnel helped those who passed out from exhaustion and treated others with minor injuries resulting from scuffles. No one was arrested.
Anne Schenk, spokeswoman for Detroit's Gleaners Community Food Bank, told the Detroit Free Press, "It's probably the worst hunger crisis we've seen in our history." Gleaners Community Food Banks is the state's largest food bank, serving five counties in southeast Michigan.
Wayne State University psychology professor Paul Toro was quoted by ABC News as saying, "Demand by so many people for any type of assistance is to be expected. With the economy tanking, homelessness is going to rise. There are so many people who are near homelessness and so many more just a hair away from it."
People lining up at the Cobo Center represented all education and socio-economic levels. For example, Racquel Sawyers, 35, is an engineer. She worked for General Motors and Chrysler before being laid-off. After seeing the huge crowds at Cobo, she went home. Sawyers told the Detroit Free Press,"I'm just trying to do what I can right now."
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