Hope Among The Homeless: Volunteer Is Inspired By Those He Helps

Larry Oleinick of Farmington Hills addresses the group of recipients and volunteers

Larry Oleinick of Farmington Hills addresses the group of recipients and volunteers

When a heavy snowfall suddenly appeared at the University of Michigan football game last Saturday, the crowd began to cheer as cheerleaders formed snow angels on the sidelines and fans tossed snowballs in the stands. Winter fun, if only momentarily, had arrived.

About 40 miles southeast of Ann Arbor, in Detroit, that same snowfall signaled something ominous to the roughly 20,000 homeless people in the city: the dreaded, long and cruel winter months were returning, and with it the undeniable reality that their harsh existence was about to get tougher.

Homelessness continues to plague Detroit where about 25 percent of the homeless are children and 20 percent suffer from mental illness. Shelters and warming centers face budget tightening, and reports of harassment and violence against the homeless are increasing at an alarming rate.

On Nov. 21, a nonprofit serving the homeless, Heart 2 Hart – Detroit, held a pre-Thanksgiving event at Hart Plaza. The group distributed new winter coats, socks, hats, hand-warmers, along with lunch and hot soup, courtesy of Mex restaurant in Bloomfield Hills. 

Jodie Gross of Franklin assists in distributing a new winter coat, one of 100 coats distributed.

Jodie Gross of Franklin assists in distributing a new winter coat, one of 100 coats distributed.

Each year during the holidays the group hosts a similar event to help people prepare for winter with this year’s event funded, in large part, by the efforts of two incredible 15 year old girls, Bree Gross and Emma Sable, who solicited support from their classmates at Cranbrook Kingswood School.                           

With Thanksgiving only days away, many of the homeless folks were reflective on the holiday and what it personally meant for them during this difficult time in their lives. But if the volunteers at Hart Plaza were expecting to hear sadness and despair, they were clearly mistaken. Despite facing daily struggles that are unimaginable to the suburbanite volunteers, the homeless folks were surprisingly upbeat, a sentiment that was as shocking as it was inspirational.

There was Coleman, 71, a Vietnam veteran with a warm smile, telling us that he was confident that next Thanksgiving is going to be different and he “can’t wait.”

Or Martha, also 71, who had been living in the streets for the past two years after she left an abusive relationship, had lost two sons to AIDS and now has a third son in prison, but who nevertheless assured us that she’ll be OK since “the Lord gives me strength.”

Bree Gross of Franklin and Emma Sable of Bloomfield Hills distribute socks, gloves and hand warmers to the homeless at Hart Plaza

Bree Gross of Franklin and Emma Sable of Bloomfield Hills distribute socks, gloves and hand warmers to the homeless at Hart Plaza

A 49-year-old man known on the streets as “Knowledge” has a reputation as a poet and a philosopher. Knowledge told anyone who would listen that “Jesus was homeless, too” and that as he looks to Thanksgiving he is “very hopeful” since “things always work out for me.”

Many folks expressed thanks for simply being alive, especially since they all felt an increase in the harassment or violence to homeless people in the past year. Brian, age 54, tells of the time that a group of young adults “threw an M80 at me while I was sleeping” and then took off laughing.

He’s known other homeless people who have been spit on or hit by cars, and recently he lost a friend who had been sleeping in an abandoned building that had been lit on fire. But Brian was not bitter or angry. When I asked what he wishes for, his answer was quick and simple: “I just want some shoes.”

Lee, age 66, is one of the lucky ones. Lee is a college graduate and just recently, with Heart 2 Hart’s help, landed a job as a teacher, which enabled him to get an apartment. He says he is “most grateful” for the ability to “bathe daily.” Lee is quick to express his patriotism, and says that “all Americans should be thankful for the bounty we have.”  

That patriotism was especially on the mind of Manny, age 70, an ex-Marine who says he is “proud to have served my country.” Manny served in Vietnam, just as his father served in WWII and his grandfather in WWI. He says he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Montgomery, which taught him not to hate, a trait that he says serves him well in dealing with homelessness. Manny’s positive inner spirit is contrasted by his scarred face and ragged white beard, which reveals the harshness of his years. Manny grew up in Alabama, and at age 70, when he thinks about the future, his greatest wish is to go back home one day and go fishing.

As the event was ending, the volunteers were packing up, going back to their warm and safe houses in the suburbs, while the homeless folks were scattering throughout Downtown, with new winter coats, a large bag of new supplies and a cup of soup in their hands. Two of them, both deaf, were walking together and smiling at each other.

The scene was, to me, poignant and profoundly sad. But as I stood there, numbed by the thought of what lay ahead for all of these folks, Coleman, the 71-year-old optimist, turned to me, smiled and said, “Remember, we ain’t nobody’s victim.”

Sometimes inspiration comes from the most unexpected places and the most unlikeliest of people.

By Mark Jacobs, Special to the Jewish News

Local Sophomores Raise Funds For Nonprofit Heart 2 Hart Detroit

Emma Sable and Bree Gross

Emma Sable and Bree Gross

November 8, 2016
Direct link to Detroit Jewish News article

Two Cranbrook Kingswood sophomores are determined to make a difference for people in need this Thanksgiving. They’re not doing it for credit or to meet some volunteer requirements for school. They simply have big hearts and want to change the world one small act of kindness at a time.

Bree Gross, 15, of Franklin, did a dance-a-thon to raise money for Heart 2 Hart Detroit for her bat mitzvah project. The charity remains close to her heart.

Heart 2 Hart Detroit is a small nonprofit that goes out into the streets of Detroit and hands out life-sustaining items to hundreds of homeless Detroiters. The nonprofit also connects homeless people to community service organizations, rehab facilities, estranged family members and even potential employers.

Bree told her friend Emma Sable, 15, of Bloomfield Hills about the charity’s work. Bree and Emma then took on the commitment to provide warm coats, socks and food gift cards for the many homeless people in Detroit to brighten their Thanksgiving.

“Once I heard about Heart 2 Hart Detroit and how they come to the city to feed the homeless, I knew right away that I wanted to get involved and help because these people deserve a second chance. I am just so happy to help support this great cause,” Bree said.

By enlisting their families and friends’ support through social media and a Crowdrise campaign, Bree and Emma are on the way to reaching their goal of raising $10,000 to purchase 100 winter coats, 100 pairs of socks and 100 $10 gift cards.

“Being homeless isn’t a choice and many unsuspecting people find themselves on the streets,” the girls wrote on their Crowdrise page. “They are moms and dads, brothers and sisters and grandmas and grandpas. They are people like us, but somewhere along the way they encountered terribly bad luck.”

With two weeks to go, the girls have raised nearly $9,000. They plan to raise funds annually to “remind all of us at Thanksgiving of all that we have to be thankful for,” Bree said.

On Nov. 21, the girls will go to Hart Plaza with other Heart 2 Hart volunteers and pass out the coats, socks and food gift cards. Also joining them will be Chef Zack Sklar and his staff from Peas and Carrots Hospitality Group, who will be passing out hot soup, lunches and toiletry kits.

To donate to the cause, visit www.crowdrise.com/raise-money-to-help-the-homeless-in-detroit/fundraiser/Emmabree.