A fundraising campaign initiated by a University student has raised several thousand dollars for an Ann Arbor homeless couple.
On March 1, Kinesiology freshman Michael Funkhouser began an online funding campaign aimed at raising $10,000 for Mat Chavez and his wife Danielle Chavez. Mat Chavez usually plays guitar for donations on the corner of State and North University Street, outside of Walgreens. Funkhouser said he had seen the two on the street many times and had listened to Mat Chavez’s guitar playing, which he found to be very good.
“I stopped to talk to him one day and I realized he had a really unique and really cool story and I started thinking of ways to help him out,” Funkhouser said. “And the next day I came back with the plan of videotaping his story and seeing if other people would take notice of it.”
Since March 1 the campaign has attracted 245 donors who have contributed a total of $6,952 as of Thursday evening.
Mat Chavez was arrested Wednesday with charges of battery and assault, the Washtenaw County Jail confirmed on Monday. He was still being held as of Thursday at 5 p.m.
Ann Arbor Police declined to provide exact details of the incident, and the Chavez couple was not available for comment. However, Funkhouser said he spoke to Danielle Chavez about 20 minutes after the incident took place.
“Danielle told me that another homeless man spit in her face and Mat retaliated by hitting the guy,” Funkhouser said. “The homeless man then called the police on Mat and a warrant was issued for his arrest.”
Funkhouser’s description of the incident could not be confirmed Thursday evening.
In a video that Funkhouser produced for the campaign, the couple explains that they became homeless after Danielle Chavez lost her job as a receptionist due to a persistent illness and Mat could not sustain them with his job as a carpet installer.
In an interview Wednesday, the couple said since coming to Ann Arbor they’ve spent nights in their car when they had one, as well as at friends’ houses, hotels and on the streets. Every day, they try to collect enough money to be able to stay at a hotel for the evening, which they said they manage to do a little more than half of the time.
On nights they don’t find a place to stay, Mat Chavez said they walk around the city and try to find a place open late, as well as remain in areas that are protected from the weather.
In response to the donation campaign, the Chavez couple said they are very grateful to Funkhouser as well as for the donations, and did not expect such a response.
“I’m still amazed because it’s good to see that there are really good people out there and that just really proves it,” Danielle Chavez said. “Anytime anyone’s discouraged and thinks ‘there’s only bad people out there’ — no, that is not true.”
Mat Chavez echoed his wife’s gratitude. He noted, however, that though money has been collected through the campaign, he and his wife will not actually have the money for a few weeks after donations close. They still need money every day to sustain themselves.
“Last Thursday we didn’t make it, and it was really cold outside, and I am walking around and I’m going ‘Oh my God! I have $4,000, but I don’t have $4,000,’ ” he said.
Both told the Daily that they moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor about two years ago after becoming homeless because they said it is safer here for homeless people.
“Plus, we had heard that there were services for homeless people here,” Mat Chavez said. “We found out, as we got here, that is not so much the case. But it is much easier to be homeless here.”
The couple noted that most people in Ann Arbor treat them well and only a few have mistreated them. Danielle Chavez said she’s been screamed and spit at by people walking by her.
Mat Chavez said he feels like the city almost doesn’t want homeless people to improve their situation, referencing the city’s actions this summer to bulldoze a homeless campsite in Broadway Park. The residents were told they were on the property illegally and had 48 hours to vacate.
“Not only will they not build a bigger shelter, they won’t build another shelter, they won’t do anything but they want to come tear people’s tents down and their suggestion is ‘well leave, why won’t these people just leave,’ ” he said.
He added that the decrease of funding to mental hospitals is a further problem for homelessness in Ann Arbor.
Danielle Chavez noted that while Ann Arbor has better services for homeless people than other places, shelters and affordable housing are services that the city needs to improve.
“You can get 24 free meals in a week here, but there is nowhere to sleep,” she said.
Funkhouser said he believed the $10,000 funding target was enough to put the couple back on their feet.
“With renting apartment and food every day and the everyday expenses, I figured that they would have a cushion instead of having to try and get back on their feet with, let’s say, $1,000,” he said.
Funkhouser said he is optimistic about reaching the target and plans to stay in touch with the couple once the campaign is over to see if they need anything else.
Mat and Danielle Chavez said they are uncertain about what they would do with the money from the donations, but their priority is to get off the street and find a place to live, though they don’t know where that would be. Mat Chavez also added that he plans on forming a band once the couple finds a place to live.
“I have a lot of original music that I don’t play out here,” he said. “And after this experience I’m sure I’ll be able to write a lot more.”