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Detroit clearing a homeless encampment to revamp Hart Plaza

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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.

Gerald Reddick, 63, says he's not overly convinced of what was promised to the unhoused at Hart Plaza in Detroit because he believes Governor Gretchen Whitmer failed to keep her promise to help by reading an article from the Michigan Chronicle in which the governor is quoted as saying she stayed up at night to make sure Michigan's vulnerable communities were served during the April 23, 2021 pandemic.  The Hart Plaza homeless camp that formed during the COVID-19 pandemic is due to be removed on Monday April 26 to make way for construction to begin.  City officials say they are offering temporary accommodation that meets COVID-19 guidelines.  A rally is planned for Monday, organized by social injustice activists and social workers, to support the unhindered if they are removed.

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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.

The Hart Plaza homeless camp, which arose during the COVID-19 pandemic, is due to be removed on Monday April 26 to make way for construction.  City officials say they are offering temporary accommodation that meets COVID-19 guidelines.  A rally is planned for Monday, organized by social injustice activists and social workers, to help the unhindered if they are removed.

“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.

The Hart Plaza homeless camp, which arose during the COVID-19 pandemic, is due to be removed on Monday April 26 to make way for construction to begin.  City officials say they are offering temporary accommodation that meets COVID-19 guidelines.  A rally is planned for Monday, organized by social injustice activists and social workers, to help the unhindered if they are removed.

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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