Tent City to feature walk for veterans, free medical servicesWritten by Kevin Moore | | email@example.com
Oct. 26 is a big day for Quentin Thomas. He’s getting married and his wedding will take place during this year’s Tent City. Thomas’ story is a testament to the kind of life change that Tent City and the group that organizes it every year, 1Matters, has come to represent since the first Tent City took place in 1990.
“You look at a guy like Quentin: he was unhoused, but then he got turned onto our street papers. Now he has keys to an apartment and he’s getting married,” said Ken Leslie, founder of 1Matters. The organization uses the term “unhoused” as a broader means to describe those without a place to live. According to Leslie, when most people hear the word “homeless,” they picture the “chronically homeless” people who live on the streets longterm, but they only make up about 15 percent of the homeless population.
“Most unhoused people are only without a home for the short term,” said Leslie. “They lost their home in a fire or they lost their job. In Toledo, there are about 1,000 unhoused in the shelters and on the streets, but when you multiply that by the turnover, that’s 3,000-4,000 unhoused people.”
Leslie, a traveling professional comedian during the 1980s, formed Tent City with fellow media personalities and several volunteers in 1990 as an annual event to serve the homeless. In his travels, Leslie became more exposed to the situation of America’s homeless, and he organized the first Tent City after looking at such artists as John Mellencamp as examples for social activism. Tent City got a boost in 2007 when Mellencamp visited the event, prompting Leslie to also start 1Matters.
1Matters is an organization dedicated to helping the unhoused find homes and improve their situation. 1Matters funds a series of street newspapers in Toledo, Ann Arbor and Detroit for unhoused people to sell and build a business around. The Toledo street paper is called Toledo Streets. Additionally, Veterans Matter is an outgrowth of 1Matters that focuses exclusively on finding homes for homeless veterans, who Leslie said make up about 15 percent of the unhoused population. Currently, Veterans Matter, which has been supported by musicians ZZ Top and Kix Brooks as well as Mellencamp, has successfully housed 140 veterans across four states, 57 of whom now have homes in the Toledo area.
“Tent City is all about coming together in unity to show compassion to the unhoused. It’s about putting aside competition and rivalries to unite behind these people,” Leslie said. Tent City traditionally kicks off with a 1Mile Matters walk from Promenade Park to Civic Center Mall, where Tent City takes place.
In 2010, media personalities from WNWO, WTOL11, 13abc, 1370 WSPD, Toledo Free Press and The Blade walked together in solidarity. Freddie and Frieda Falcon of Bowling Green State University even linked arms with the University of Toledo’s Rocky and Rocksy, calling a brief truce to the Battle of I-75. This year’s event will feature free medical services courtesy of Mercy, ProMedica, UTMC and the Mildred Bayer Clinic for the Homeless.
This year’s event during the weekend of Oct. 25-27 will feature entertainment, food and multiple opportunities to serve. Music will be provided by Pat Lewandowski.
Volunteers and guests of Tent City will be invited to share in a community dinner on Friday and Saturday night and a pancake breakfast on Sunday.
New to this year’s Tent City will be a voter registration and education campaign called 1Votes. “We want to get as many of the unhoused living in the shelters and on the streets, as well as our volunteers, registered to vote as possible. Their voices need to be heard,” said Leslie, who personally took 226 individuals to vote in 2012. “That is one of my top three moments. You could just see these people come out of the voting booth inches taller. They knew they mattered.”
Perhaps the most powerful opportunity offered by Tent City is the invitation to spend the night.
“As many as 80 people will spend the night. It is just an overwhelming experience. It allows people to feel the pain of poverty. We live in so much comfort, we forget that there are those who live without such comfort.”
Despite the serious nature of poverty and homelessness, Leslie said fun must be involved in all Tent City does.
“Fun is important in all we do. It helps us connect with people and address the unhoused respectfully as equals. No matter how bad things get, if you can get to the point where you can laugh, you’re on your way home.”
Tent City kicks off with the 1Mile Matters walk to benefit Veterans Matter at 6 p.m. on Oct. 25.
For more information or to volunteer, visit www.1matters.org.
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