Tommy Garrett House to provide a space for unhoused artists in Detroit
In the early 2000s, Shahida Mausi was looking forward to her cousin Tommy Garrett moving to Detroit.
The accomplished model, actor and singer had released his first jazz album and was bringing his singing talents to MGM Grand Detroit as a performer.
But even with his success, Garrett found it difficult to find affordable housing during his 10 years in the city, Mausi said. She tried to find him an apartment to no avail, and for a short period, Garrett was homeless.
“I know there are a lot of challenges that artists face, even though we may think, ‘They’re successful, they’ve got lots of everything. They should be fine.’ That’s not always the case. Things happen in life as things happened to Tommy,” Mausi said.
For years, Mausi, president of Detroit entertainment and event service company The Right Productions, envisioned opening a space where unhoused artists like Garrett could live comfortably and create art without the worry of not having enough for rent.
Now, her dream is becoming a reality.
The Right Productions partnered with health and human service agency Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO) to establish the Tommy Garrett House in the Berg-Lasher neighborhood. The three-bedroom, 1,920-square-foot ranch features a living room fireplace and each room has two twin-sized beds ready for occupants with Michigan products like Better Made potato chips and Vernors resting on top of the comforters. Up to six artists can stay in the house, NSO President Linda Little said during a recent unveiling ceremony. While the selection of artists is still in the planning stages, the house is set to open in early 2024.
A sign for the Tommy Garrett House sits in the kitchen during an unveiling ceremony Dec. 18, 2023. (BridgeDetroit Photo by Quinn Banks)
In 2022, more than 8,500 people were identified as homeless in shelters, transitional or permanent supportive housing Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park, according to a report from the City of Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department. On any given night more than 1,500 people experience homelessness on the streets and in shelters. Little said many of the people NSO houses in its apartments are artists and musicians.
“We’re hoping this could be the start of something that catches fire in the community to underserved populations that helps provide beauty in our city,” Little said.
A place to call home
Little said she and Mausi came up with the Tommy Garrett House concept about two years ago, along with Keith Flournoy, the deputy director of Detroit Parks and Recreation. The three were attending a concert by Detroit singer Kem and it was like “three dreams coming together,” Little said.
Flournoy said he thought of the homeless people sheltering in Hart Plaza and the challenges Kem faced before he became a R&B superstar–battling addictions to drugs and alcohol and living on the streets of Detroit in his early 20s.
“Being inspired, I just wanted to do something.” Flournoy said. “I had a vision.”
Mitzi Jackson reading her poem, “Detroit Lights” at the Dec. 18, 2023, Tommy Garrett House Dedication Ceremony. (BridgeDetroit Photo by Quinn Banks)
He talked to Mausi, who told him about Little and a similar idea she had. The three first worked together to host the Community of Hope weekend in July, which included a benefit concert featuring R&B singers Maxwell and Tamia and resources for the homeless population in metro Detroit.
Part of the funding for the Tommy Garrett House comes from the benefit concert, while the rest is funded by NSO and other sources, Mausi said.
Mausi, Little and Flournoy then began working on the house. Little said NSO already owned the northwest Detroit residence, a former adult foster care home. Six months ago, they began working on renovations.
“We wanted it to be cozy and homey,” Little said. “We try to make it inviting so it’s a place that people want to call home.”
Little said the rent has not been decided yet, but she wants to keep it under $500 per month.
“We want to make sure that it’s something that is affordable for them,” she said. “I want to work with them, to understand what the income stream looks like for the artist community. What is the best price point for them?”
Garrett, who now lives in New Jersey, attended the unveiling via Zoom, showing his appreciation for his cousin and the NSO, which he also has ties with.
Garrett said while he was homeless, he was beaten up and mugged, which resulted in him losing his ID. After unsuccessfully trying to get new identification from the Secretary of State office, someone told him about the NSO. Employees were able to provide Garrett with a place to stay and helped him obtain a new ID.
“Y’all helped me out when nobody else really helped me,” he said. “I’m very much appreciative of that.”
Garrett is also appreciative of having the house named in his honor.
“A lot of times, people in the nine-to-five world, they do not understand artists. They don’t understand anything about what that life is like,” he said. “This makes me feel great that there will be something to cater to their needs and to be lenient and understand that they’re trying to get themselves together. I think it would be really an enormous service.”
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