DETROIT — About two weeks before Christmas, The Rev. Tim McCabe realized he needed a miracle.
McCabe is the executive director of the Pope Francis Center, a day service for homeless people currently running out of Huntington Place, formerly called the TCF Center.
It was mid-December, the temperature was dropping and COVID-19 cases were rising. McCabe couldn’t have 150 to 200 homeless people waiting outside, shivering, as staff slowly screened people for COVID symptoms as they entered.
So McCabe called General Motors for help.
“GM has been such a community partner and so supportive of us all along the way,” McCabe said. “I knew, when I had seen its kiosks in the Renaissance Center, if I called GM, they’d help us get them.”
The thermal scanning kiosks are contact-free temperature sensors. In mid-2020, as some employees started returning to the office, GM placed several at the entrances of the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit.
The Pope Francis Center’s administrative offices are also located in the RenCen so McCabe was familiar with kiosks. He figured the kiosks would allow for faster COVID screening of homeless visitors at Huntington Place as they enter, moving the line indoors efficiently.
‘We’ve got ‘em’
When McCabe called Terry Rhadigan, GM’s executive director of corporate giving, on Dec. 17, he asked Rhadigan for the name of the vendor from which GM bought its kiosks.
Rhadigan said he gave McCabe the name, but he decided to look in GM’s metaphorical broom closet to see if the company had any spare kiosks lying around.
“I pulled together a call with people in charge of that and they said, ‘We’ve got ’em, let’s put ’em to good use,’ ” Rhadigan said. “It was one of the easiest decisions we had to make.”
On Dec. 28, two of the thermal sensors were installed for the center at Huntington Place.
“I’m so grateful,” McCabe said. “It’s been incredibly helpful to our effort to keep everyone healthy. It works really quick. People stand in front of it and move on.”
McCabe considers the kiosks a loan, but Rhadigan said it was not discussed if they will be a donation or a loan.
“It’s indefinite — if they need them, they can keep them,” Rhadigan said. “We didn’t talk about if it was a gift or loan, we weren’t worried about it. What we were worried about was that at the end of the year people were ready to go on holiday and we had to have this in place before people left for the holiday.”
GM isn’t the only automaker to help the Pope Francis Center.
At GM’s crosstown rival, Ford CEO Jim Farley often volunteers his time and gives his money to help the center.
In December, Farley attended the groundbreaking of a Bridge Housing Campus that will provide 40 studio apartments as temporary shelter to people for 90 to 120 days. The project will include social and job-preparation services and comprehensive medical care that covers physical, psychological and addiction needs.
The center’s goal is to eradicate chronic homelessness in Detroit by 2030. To that end, GM donated $250,000 toward Bridge housing, McCabe and Rhadigan said.
GM employees also volunteer at the center.
“I love the fact that they’re competitors in the corporate world, but they’re both community partners and put that competition aside to help the community,” McCabe said. “I don’t know that we’d be able to do half of what we do without their support. They’ve always come to me and said, ‘What can we do to help?’ That’s Terry and Jim Farley, both.”
The Pope Francis Center, which has been serving homeless people for three decades, is the only day center in Detroit that provides services on a large scale to homeless people. It offers meals, laundry and shower facilities, and rotating medical, dental and legal clinics along with housing assistance five days a week.
On Nov. 1, it moved to larger space allowing it to serve more people while meeting COVID-19 safety protocols.
McCabe said the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has provided COVID-19 antigen tests and Covenant Community Care monitors people for illness and takes them to hospitals or quarantine shelters when necessary.
Finally, the Honu Management Group, conducts COVID testing and provides weekly access to vaccines and booster shots.