By Josh Drzewicki
Living in metro Detroit isn’t an easy feat. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of poverty stemming from the decline of the Motor City that started in the 1950s, continued with urban decay throughout the 1970s, that has evolved to now.
In fact, Detroit was the only city in the 50 biggest cities to lose population between 2010 and 2015. I didn’t grow up in Detroit or the metro area, but I feel a strong sense of belief in the biggest city in my state.
I know it’s a digression from the story, but many people just assume that Detroit is some horrible place that looks like it’s out of a Dystopian video game. While it’s not beautiful everywhere you go, and there is noticeable poverty, it’s still like other cities. That includes the care that we show the people who find themselves begging for money underneath the bridges or outside ball parks.
I was in the Do Random Acts of Kindness club while in university, and it taught me to give back. I was inspired to help this older gentleman, Matt, that I always saw near 8 Mile in my city. He was always sitting at the corner begging for money. He’s African American and an Army vet as I later found out.
The first time I encountered Matt was shortly after I moved to the area. It was June, hot, and sprinkling. He walked up to my window at a red light and asked for some change. I didn’t have anything in my car at the moment, so I told him next time. I encountered him a week later when I ran to get groceries. Again, I told him I didn’t have any money on me, but he could get in and we could get some food.
He hopped into my aging Chevy Cavalier and I drove a half mile to McDonald’s. I told him to order whatever and we could hang out and eat. I ordered a side salad and french fries (I’m vegetarian). Matt ordered a Big Mac meal and two more cheeseburgers. I thought it was a lot of food at first. Then I listened to him tell me his story. It helped me realize that even buying someone a meal can increase their quality of life. Even if it’s just one time.
I learned that Matt was in the Army in the 1990s, back when I was just a little kid. He was injured during a drill and discharged. Through the years, he’s been dealing with the VA system with little luck. Eventually, in the early 2000s, he was given some prescription painkillers. Despite having a steady job, he fell into addiction which caused him to lose his job and his girlfriend. A year later, he lost his house without steady work. By 2012, he was on the street devoting his whole life to finding drugs.
In 2015, some clergymen helped Matt. They taught him how to get help as a drug addict. While it got him off drugs, it didn’t get him off the street. He’s been living there since. He said it was the first time someone had bought him a meal in six months.
Not everything is like it seems. The city of Detroit or even Matt. With a little help and a little bit of food. Anything is possible. I haven’t seen Matt in months. I’m hoping it means he got off the street.
Josh Drzewicki is a variety writer hailing from metro Detroit. In his free time, he enjoys long walks through the city while listening to NPR podcasts. He spends time attending the local National Stuttering Association meetings and playing video games.