Detroit clearing a homeless encampment to revamp Hart Plaza
A homeless camp at Hart Plaza is grabbing the trunk of the city of Detroit to make way for a four-month renovation project.
City officials said construction will start at 7 a.m. on Monday and will last through August. The plan includes repairs to the boardwalk, upgrading the drain gates, and replacing current lower-level lighting with LED and exit lights.
Eastside Mutual Aid, a Detroit-based community organization, said up to 50 people are camping around Hart Plaza when they drop off groceries and toiletries.
“It’s very difficult for people to find safe places, so they can find communities like Hart Plaza that have guards,” said Kara Mason, co-founder of the organization.
There’s a community of support beneath the steps of Hart Plaza, Mason said. People know each other’s names, care for one another and can keep their autonomy.
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Donald Rencher, who serves as the city’s group leader for Housing, Planning and Development, said via email that the city is putting people in hotels until construction is complete but hopes to find more permanent housing before the project ends.
Dimitris Smith, 54, has been housed in Hart Plaza camp since last June when his temporary accommodation was empty.
“I shouldn’t be forced out of here,” said Smith.
With a sleep disorder and back problems, Smith said it was difficult to find work. Staying on the square was safe – until now.
“I used to feel safe, but now that everyone is gone it’s a little different,” he said.
Though the city has promised a hotel until the project is finished, Smith wonders how long it will take.
“They never like to raise your hopes,” said Smith.
After a Hart Plaza sweep in 2019 that started without warning and resulted in people’s property being taken away and thrown away, the city created a rule that the city should “not remove people’s personal belongings” . This time, people in emergency shelters and homeless support agencies were given a week’s notice.
“Homeless service providers will provide case management and the connection to permanent shelters so individuals don’t get back on the streets,” Rencher said via email.
Holes became visible in government care during the pandemic, Mason said.
“Homelessness is an example of a failed state,” Mason said.
Eastside Mutual Aid will hold a peaceful protest in Hart Plaza Monday morning at 7 a.m. when construction begins.
Co-founder Jewan Price said, “One of our main goals is to raise awareness and provide impetus for direct action.”
Some steps Price would like to take are to visit the town halls, ask about budgets, and bring these issues to the fore in the city’s attention.
“One injury is everyone’s injury,” Price said.
Contact Minnah Arshad: [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @minnaharshad.
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