DETROIT (WJBK) – By Amy Lange
“I need to know what it feels like to be hungry, cold, tired, no place to go,” Brian O’Neal said nearly two years ago.
He is a talented jazz musician turned advocate for the homeless. He hit the snowy streets of Detroit with the clothes on his back and seven bucks to experience homelessness firsthand, probably never dreaming he might actually find himself in that situation.
O’Neal continued to compose and perform, but scaled back so he could lead the DO Foundation, his homeless advocacy organization on Woodward Avenue in Detroit where they help so many people get back on their feet like Michelle Deciantis, a client and longtime volunteer.
“There [are] homeless people that live on the streets of the City of Detroit that depend on the DO Foundation,” she said.
An all volunteer organization, they don’t rely on government grants, don’t deal with the red tape, just donations and O’Neal’s income. It hasn’t been easy. DO Foundation was burglarized more than once, wiped out, but still they persevered.
Times are hard. Donations have dwindled, and O’Neal, who spent so much of his own money just to keep DO Foundation going, was faced with a very difficult decision — lose the organization or his own home.
“I would feel like a complete failure if DO Foundation were to close their doors. I wouldn’t want to let down the people that we service.”
So he gave up his townhouse in Novi and is now living with his family at a motel. He plans to spend the next 45 days composing and recording his new CD, which will be called “Do Something”.
“Hoping and praying … that CD takes off. If I get at least one hit song from there, we’ll be able to open at least two other DO Foundation offices,” O’Neal said.
As for his current situation, living in a motel, O’Neal is trying not to think about it.
“We consider ourselves doers, so the more we do, the better things are for you mentally, emotionally,” he said. “When I come into the office every day and see the clients that walk in frowning and leaving smiling, that’s all I need. That confirms that decision.”
To learn more or donate to the DO Foundation, visit www.dofoundation.net.
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Brian O’Neal explaining plight of the homeless and the DO Foundation
A little taste of Brian O’Neal’s music