Can the homeless be organized? In Detroit, the answer is yes. And the homeless are doing it largely by themselves, with a little help from some college students, a Capuchin monastery and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which provides funding.
They’ve taken on the name Detroit Action Commonwealth -- a swipe, with its initials, at a city institution, the private Detroit Athletic Club, which for a long time did not admit blacks and to this day does not admit women into its ranks.
The Capuchin monastery in Detroit has been feeding poor Detroiters since the Great Depression started in 1929. One of those who helped establish the outreach was Father Solanus Casey, a Capuchin priest now being considered for sainthood. It started with sandwiches handed out outside the monastery and later expanded into a soup kitchen which has now branched out into two additional locations.
The Detroit Action Commonwealth is organized like a labor union, with chapters at each of the three soup kitchen sites operating like to union locals -- an easy concept to grasp to many of its members, who once worked at now-shuttered auto or supplier plants.
The organization has conducted voter registration drives among the homeless soup kitchen patrons, going so far as to hunt down their birth certificates in Detroit and other Michigan cities. The voter ID card serves as the “government-issued ID” needed to prove identity at a host of places. The Capuchins let the homeless list the monastery address as their residence.