Detroit homeless choir changes lives, may perform for Obama - KMSP-TV

Detroit homeless choir changes lives, may perform for Obama

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By Taryn Asher
Fox 2 News


DETROIT (WJBK) -- A group of homeless men and women find they have a collective voice that can help them overcome hardship.  They're part of a choir that's bringing new hope and beautiful music to others.

They were living from pillar to post just trying to survive day to day, but now a group of homeless people say their lives have changed thanks to the power of song.

They're called The Homeless Choir because they are.

"Right now I'm just living from house to house, friends to friends," said David Barrios.

"I was a mess.  When I say that, literally was a mess because all I've known is the streets, drugs," said Ralph Duncans.

"My previous husband died of cancer," said Bertha Dotson.  "I didn't have enough money to make it on my own."

Like thousands of others in Detroit, they are forced to live on the streets -- shelters,  abandoned houses, churches, wherever they can stay warm during the cold winter nights.  But now during the day they have somewhere to go, The Voices of Hope Center on Michigan Avenue on the city's southwest side, a building donated after Jake Salazar, Junior came up with a unique idea.

"I was sitting at McDonald's one day trying to think about how to do this and it hit me to just teach the choir how to sing," he said.

Salazar and Cynthia Gonzales recruited homeless people to form a choir.  They perform at different venues that raises money to feed those in need, help run the center and eventually a place for them to live.

"You couldn't tell they're homeless.  Everybody's having a good time.  Rehearsal's at one o'clock, they're here at ten in the morning waiting to start rehearsing," said Salazar.

"I've got a new family now, these people right here," Barrios remarked.

He says he now has a sense of purpose, and after nearly 30 years in and out of jail and on the streets, Duncans cleaned up his life.  He's off drugs, helping out at the center and because of the money raised by the choir, he has his first apartment at 70 years old.

"It's a feeling that's hard to explain when you can walk and people look at you with respect, and it's something I never tried to get or even wanted because I didn't care," Duncans said.

Singing in this choir changed Dotson's life.

"I am now married.  I am now the director of this choir, and I am going to sing for the president.  So it's a blessing," she said.

From the streets of Detroit to the Nation's Capital, the choir is trying to raise money for their trip.  They've been asked to perform at several inauguration events and there's a chance they could perform for the president himself -- a once in a lifetime opportunity none of them ever imagined.

"We need money for the gas.  We need money to feed them.  We've been blessed with a bus, and we just need to get the money to get us there and back," said Gonzales.

"For us, it's about spreading the word out about the homeless issue in Detroit and what the homeless people have done for themselves and are doing for others to come up with a solution," said Salazar.

"It would be the greatest feeling in the world to be able to sing for the president," said Duncans.  "I know that I've changed.  My life is better than what it was."

Besides gas money for the trip to D.C., they are trying to raise money to buy a van so they can make it to the different venues where they are paid to perform and to make it to New York.  They tell me Sony Music is interested in recording their songs for a CD they can sell to also make money.

Donations can be dropped off at The Voices of Hope Center at 5900 Michigan Avenue in Detroit.  You can also contact them by calling (313) 995-2451 or visit them on their Facebook page.

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