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Mixed Emotions About A Downtown Detroit "Character"

I did a double take when I read news that Stella Paris, a mentally ill elderly woman known around this city as "Greektown Stella," finally passed away at age 95.

95-year-old Stella Paris was special to so many people. She was from Greece and took pride in that. So, she choose to live her life on the streets of Greektown in downtown Detroit.

Stella was mentally ill and suffered from schizophrenia. Her family tried several times to take her home, but she wanted to be in Greektown. So, the community took care of her by giving her food, shelter and love.

"For some of us, that was part of the intrigue and fun of going to Greektown. Would we see her," said Bonnie Barton with the East Grand Nursing Home.

"She was a sweetheart," said Oliver Kesto, owner of Athens Liquor Store. "She always (paid) me for everything... She (didn't) accept anything for free."

Of course, anyone's death should be mourned, and Stella's is no different. (I'm also glad she was able to die with a measure of dignity.) From all that I've ever read or heard about her, she was a fascinating figure who, before plunging into the depths of homelessness and insanity, was actually a woman of some means and station. And certainly, no one will question whether she brought added "color" to Greektown, where she could often be found sitting in a doorway, wielding a big-ass stick, shouting nonsense (not to mention insults) at people who wandered by.

Not unlike those merchants, I remember seeing her, too, when I was a kid trying to get an early taste of local nightlife by spending long hours in Greektown on hot summer evenings. But, unlike those merchants, not all of my (or my peers') memories of Greektown Stella are fond ones.

I remember how, apropos of nothing, she'd sometimes swing her big stick at the young black men and women who strolled past. (And these weren't love taps she was trying to dish out either.) I remember, on more than one occasion, hearing her yell slurs and threats. I remember even being on the receiving end of those epithets once or twice. Sure, even as a teenager, I knew enough to blow off the screams as nothing more than rantings from "the crazy Greektown lady" -- we all knew that -- but that doesn't mean that many of us young Detroit kids who ever heard Stella unload will recall her as "a sweetheart."

Greektown Stella was quite a colorful character, and she's been known to cause some commotion as she shouted to the strangers on the street in Greek. Stella sported an army-type uniform and a billy club given to her by Detroit police for protection. DPD helped Greektown Stella in other ways, too.

I remember the army greens. And the big stick. And the billy club. And I also remember wondering, even back then, how a boisterous, mentally unbalanced homeless lady was allowed to hang out in one of Detroit's premiere nightlife hubs, charging young people with sticks and billy clubs and shouting slurs, without ever being carted away.

Mostly, though, I remember wondering what so many of my friends and I would ask each other almost every time we ventured downtown and saw her: What if Stella had been a homeless black man hanging out in Greektown for all those years, going after passers by with staffs or shrieking threats at them at the top of his lungs while sprawled in front of the doorway of a vibrant establishment? Would that person still have been considered "colorful?" Would he be recalled as a "sweetheart?" Would anyone even deem him worth remembering at all?

More likely, I think, he would've wound up like this.

But no one got too mad at Greektown Stella back then, and I'm certainly not mad now. As I said, she should be mourned and remembered. But as is so often the case in and around Detroit, even those remembrances show just how different -- and divided -- our perceptions can be.

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  • 1

    That's a reach, DD. Maybe the reason Stella stood out (aside from her longevity and high-profile location) is that she was a white female. You can hardly claim she had no black male counterparts, in attitude and station, on the city's streets. There are similar homeless all over the area (yes, including in the suburbs, where they are much less obvious in their presence but still omnipresent).

    • 1.1

      I think greektown stella lived inside the old packard plant for a while , does anyone else know if thats true?..If i was homeless i think i would live there i love that place ..I visit often walking inside trying to invision how it must of been when it was working and not damaged like now , its such a shame how people have such little respect for such a rich in history place, i wonder what reft meants its wrote on what use to be arlans department store and on the old grocery store..rita

  • 2


    So in other words Stella was a racist old bitch....

    I knew the post of anounceofaction was on its way not relevant to this issue of course but given the racial vibes of this region I knew 'race card" posts like his was just a stella away..

    • 2.1

      Shakey Jake in Ann Arbor could hurl some invective and make people who didn't know him uncomfortable, too. And he wasn't even homeless or, as far as I know, diagnosed with mental illness.

  • 3

    Even crazy people who hate negroes and coloreds. are racists......It is rough our here D...It is a minefield shit when crazy old white folks hate ya just because of the hue of your skin...


  • 4

    So you're upset that people took pity on a poor, deranged old woman? Why does everything come back to race? If she was really that threatening and intimidating to the point where it would deter customers, I think the business owners would have her removed. It seems like the reason judging from the article linked that she was able to stay around is that she personally knew the business owners and that she became de-facto family.

    I've been approached countless times in Detroit and specifically Greektown by poor black men begging for a dollar and I've often tried to help them out. I'm not really a huge fan of random strangers approaching me in the street asking for money, and at times if its a dark place such as a parking lot it can be intimidating when a stranger (of any race) approaches you. I've never seen these people hauled away or prevented from loitering on the streets.

  • 5

    By the way, I think the solution to crazy homeless people antagonizing business patrons on the street is to get rid of public property. It can be up to the owner's discretion then if these people are trespassing on his property.

    That way the racists (both black and white) can remove those of the hue they disapprove. Those that are most interested in generating the most sales possible at their establishment like myself can remove all loiterers that make customers uncomfortable. People like DD who believe we need to have equal opportunities for antagonistic, mentally impaired homeless people can have their way as well. We should have the freedom of association!

  • 6

    I have no quarrel with Flytiger's approach to the homeless..My only reservation is about his comment "why does everything come back to race"

    Hell I have wondered the same thing all my life as a Black person from my vantage point in our nation white america created the race card, slavery, jim crow , segregation, disparate treatment, digitial divide, profiling etc..

    I know where/why/who created the construct of 'race' in our nation and it is not DD nor me of course..Yet whenever I confront it I am attacked..Imagine that one..

  • 7

    Spot on. The idea that a mentally ill women was allowed to live a feral existence as a kind of local mascot is hardly heart-warming or endearing. People gave her their leftovers and some small bills. BFD.

    In ESPN's documentary about Jimmy Piersall, one of his former teammates said he was always uncomfortable when people said Piersall had a "colorful" personality. Piersall wasn't some charming eccentric but a man dealing with bipolar disorder.

    This Stella woman was in that same boat, multiplied by 1000. Instead of getting her help, people treated her as part of the scenery. That says a lot about Detroiters...none of it good.

    • 7.1

      Mental health care is not a strong point for anyplace, more or less the US. The usual alternative to allowing someone their freedom is warehousing. Do you advocate that?

    • 7.2

      If "warehousing" involves medication and other forms of mental health care then yes, I advocate that. Perhaps some people are truly unable to ever live as fully functional members of society but at least an institution offers a safe place where the Stellas of the world aren't a threat to themselves or others.

      I think that's far more humane then letting someone sleep in a doorway where she was repeatedly attacked and robbed and left to suffer the elements into old age.

    • 7.3

      We used to have facilities like that. Thank the previous governor and his fellow cronies for closing them.

    • 7.4

      While you're at you can ponder the lack of universal health care that would have helped her, too, while this stupid country goes about bombing some nations into oblivion while 'building' others.

  • 8

    The treatment of Stella had just as much to do with ethnicity, age, and gender as much as race. If a 20-something white kid (who also didn't happen to be a Greek immigrant) covered in tattoos and piercings was berating and swinging a stick at people in Greektown, I don't think anyone would find him endearing just because he's white. Yes, unfortunately DD appearances do matter to people.

    Thrasher this country has a very ugly history on race and while it has improved its far from ideal as you have mentioned. I've wondered all my life why I as a white man have to deal with people of all races treating those of different races with scorn and suspicion. Just because my skin color is lighter than yours doesn't mean I'm somehow responsible for racism. I don't define myself by my "race," I think race is an artificial divisive concept that last served a purpose when we all lived subsistently in tribes and skin color was an easy way to recognize who was of kin and who wasn't.

    My solution to our race problems is to stop empowering groups of individuals with government power. Without the power of the state race can no longer be such a wedge issue. We will ALL be freer, richer, and more prosperous without government. Given the freedom of association those that discriminate certain groups do not have to interact with those they disdain. Those of us that see race (or have the potential to see race) to be what it is (an artificial construct) can progress towards a more modern world.

  • 9

    I acknowledge some of your talking points since you are a white male you have benefited from white supremacy/white privledge in our nation that is obvious and the tragic legacy of white racism in our nation whites are still getting unearned yields fron slavery, segregation etc..

    I do however agree that some racial progress has taken place in our nation I am not in denial about this truth..I am so happy Black americans were the primary reason for civil rights and human rights in our nation..

    Your defintion of race is an academic excercise which has nothing to do with reality and the legacy of the one drop, segregation ,jim crow etc..Cleary this history of race is real..

    I am so tired of the backward constucts of liberterian dogma the people are the government, goverment did not create white racism ...white folks created it..

    Prior to the civil rights acts of 1964 white companies had free reign to do whatever they wanted and they intentionally engaged in racial discriminatory employment practices the government did not insert, invoke nor had any oversight of the behaviors of these free companies..

    Please do not lecture me on the fiction of free people and the evil of a overbearing government..Free white folks created the racist legacy which still stings our nation today..

    Your resolution is an artifical construct based upon some tired underdeveloped flawed paradigms of libertarian babble..

    I show post later a more progressive construct regarding race in our nation..I got to work and make money..

    To be continued..

  • 10

    Let's see - Once again GT uses the race card with all the accuracy and precision of a flame-thrower. DD plays a victim card "she'd sometimes swing her big stick at the young black men and women"... She used to harass my groups of friends too, which at times contained *gasp* all white kids! She was a crazy old lady who yelled at everyone, next story please.

  • 11

    Let's see-Once again Danfrom Detroit posts and irrevelant comment with accuracy and precision of a person in denial...

    Let's ignore his next empty post..

  • 12

    gthrasher ... aka "Rasputin" ... you weak-minded racist twit. I heard you were beaten to death by three chicks outside a bar last summer in Pontiac. WTF??? Apparently you survived. Word was quite a few of your teeth were left on the pavement after they took you to the hostpital. I laughed my ass off.
    I'd think you'd have figured out that running your racist mouth was getting it kicked in too much. (a friend of one of those girls told me that was exactly what you did to get stomped by them)
    Keep it up ... we'll be findin ya on the "shtreet" soon an it aint' gonna be your teeth next time ... BLACKATCHA.

  • 13


    LOL, LOL,LOL, Rasputin..I kinda like that...LOL..LOL.LOL

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