One year. One city. Endless opportunities.

Giving the Homeless a Voice

As she had done so many times before, clinical psychologist Miriam Yezbick found herself listening to a woman describe her life's obstacles. But instead of taking notes in an office at her St. Clair Shores' practice, Yezbick listened to this case in the Detroit Rescue Mission. The Detroit woman spoke at length of losing her home and her child. She spoke of sleeping with strangers for money, and of getting raped repeatedly. But she still found reasons to call her life “blessed.” After all, one of her rapists had tried to kill her, and failed. And she had God.  Yezbick listened, and then she did something different. Instead of filling out paperwork or scheduling another meeting, she became an actor for a special performance called “Unheard Voices.” She tied a blue bandana to her head, and stepped on stage in front of 500 theater-goers to tell this woman's story.

Yezbick was one of 17 performers speaking for Detroit's homeless in a riveting production by the University of Detroit Mercy Theatre Company this past weekend. Whether portraying a 17-year-old kid with HIV or a 53-year-old man with four sons, the actors in “Unheard Voices” drew their words from intimate interviews with the homeless, most of which were conducted by the performers themselves.

Yolanda Fleischer, a retiring UDM faculty member, conceived and directed “Unheard Voices” with the hope that it would shatter common stereotypes of the homeless. Sure, the production included tales of crimes and addictions that those who judge the homeless might expect. But each tale was real and specific, and the tales of the well-educated, the ambitious, and the wealthy who'd fallen into homelessness defied all sterotypes. One Detroiter made $60,000 a year before her company shut down and she fell all the way to the street.  Now, she owns her own business. And 56-year-old Anita is a mother who worked up to 15 hours a day and put her son through college before becoming homeless. But if there's a silver lining to her tale, it's that Anita now believes she was meant to experience homelessness so that as to help others: “I used to say, ‘Why am I out here?' Now I say, ‘Why not?'” Anita (played by Nancy Elizabeth-Kammer) said.  “Homeless means no home—nothing else.”

Other actors portrayed homeless people who wanted to believe in ways out of the crisis. “With all these schools that have closed,” asked a 37-year-old homeless man named Andre (portrayed by Jason Echols), “you can't open up a facility to house homeless people?”  And 49-year-old Dave (played by Greg Trzaskoma) added, “We need more jobs in our state. If there were more jobs there would be less homeless people. That's it.”

The entire production, which consisted of three performances and a silent auction, raised over $8,000 for the Homeless Action Network of Detroit (H.A.N.D.) and collected enough clothing donations to fill a 22-foot truck for the Salvation Army. The UDM Theatre Company is still receiving financial donations for the homeless.

(For information on donating to H.A.N.D., contact Greg Grobis at

  • Print
  • Comment
Comments (7)
Post a Comment »
  • 1

    It makes a ton of sense to use some of the abandoned buildings in the city for the homeless. There are homeless carpenters/handymen/skilled workers that would be willing to put in the work necessary to restore the buildings so why not?

  • 2

    I support Andre's and ps784's suggestion. Why board up a perfectly good building and allow it to decay and the vandals to destroy when it could serve a useful purpose?
    I'm sure the homeless occupants would welcome the task of repairing and maintaining the bldg in return for a shelter.

  • 3

    Interesting read. It important to remember that everyone has a story to tell.

  • 4

    Great article! It really makes you think.I believe people would think very differently about the subject if they put themselves in a homeless person's shoes for a day, or even a couple hours!!

  • 5

    There are so many sad stories out there about the homeless and what's even sadder is that there are so many resources that can be used to help. People need to pull together and work on this, it is so important. Remember, they did not choose to be homeless.

  • 6

    This idea has come up in conversations in the past...what about offering the homeless a daily allowance to help in the clean-up efforts of Detroit. In return, they could receive a little money, have a place to stay (in a refurbished abandoned building) and it would help in the efforts to clean up the city. Where the money - and it would probably be little- comes from is another story, but it's an idea.

  • 7

    Like in many large business environments this is largely a cultural problem, meaning that Detroit has not raised the benchmark for success on themselves in yrs. We have rewarded bad decision makers for years w political offices, and until they are held accountable for their actions, these actions will continue. Its a shame when political agendas take priority over common sense solutions.

Add Your Comment:

You must be logged in to post a comment.
The Detroit Blog Daily E-mail

Get e-mail updates from TIME's The Detroit Blog in your inbox and never miss a day.

More News from Our Partners

Quotes of the Day »

NICHOLAS FISHER, expert at Stony Brook University in New York who took part in a study which found that bluefin tuna contaminated with radiation believed to be from Fukushima Daiichi were present off the coast of California just five months after the nuclear meltdown.