Thousands mob Detroit center hoping for housing relief

Long lines, short tempers illustrate Motor City’s plight

By Corey Williams
Associated Press / October 8, 2009

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DETROIT - Scuffles erupted as several thousand Detroit residents jockeyed, pushed, and shoved yesterday to get free money being offered to only 3,500 of the city’s recently or soon-to-be homeless.

The city distributed more than 50,000 applications for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program the past several days before running out yesterday morning. Only 3,500 people who qualify will receive the money - a maximum $3,000 per applicant, Dumas said.

Several received medical treatment for fainting or exhaustion while frantically trying to obtain the applications for federal housing assistance.

The long lines and short tempers highlighted the frustration and desperation that Detroit residents feel struggling through an economic nightmare.

The line around Cobo Center, a downtown convention center, started forming well before daybreak.

Anger flared within a few hours as more people sought a dwindling number of applications.

Members of the Detroit Police Department’s Gang Squad and other tactical units were called in for crowd control.

Several people reportedly passed out from exhaustion and had to be treated by emergency medical personnel. Some minor injuries were reported, and no arrests were made.

“It’s a sign of the times, and we can’t deny we have people here who are in need,’’ said Karen Dumas, communications director for Mayor Dave Bing. “It’s scary and very disappointing. It also shows a need for redirection for our city.’’

One in four working-age adults in Detroit is without a job, and the city’s home foreclosure rate continues to be among the nation’s highest. One in four families and 3 out of every 10 individuals live below the poverty level, according to the US census.

Before yesterday, Detroit Planning and Development workers already had spent two days handling long lines at City Hall and other locations.

Rumors that $3,000 stimulus checks from the Obama administration spurred heavy turnouts.