Chene Street on Detroit’s eastside runs through the heart of the city’s once heavily populated Polish community, and not too long ago it was a fairly active place. It was a street lined with ethnic bakeries, small candy stores, hardware stores and numerous corner bars. Plus, there were many ethnic cultural clubs, restaurants and even a bowling alley. Nearly all of those places have closed, and many of the early 20th century buildings that housed them are no longer standing.
The street now looks to be a place for those who are down on their luck. It’s the type of street where men congregate along abandoned storefronts and empty lots drinking from bottles covered with brown paper bags talking among themselves. It’s also a place where tough, streetwise women that look to be in their 40’s or 50’s, but in reality could be in their 20’s, wave to men in passing cars. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hope for many of those I see while riding along Chene St. However, that may not be the case.
On a mile stretch of the street between I-94 and East Warren Avenue, there are a large number of churches. They are not your traditional looking churches with majestic steeples, soaring naves and gothic buttresses. They are smaller places of worship; what many would call storefront churches. They vary in size and membership and have been set-up in structures where businesses once thrived. When I ride by on Sundays, they seem to be packed with churchgoers.
There is no way of knowing how many (if any) of the people I see on the street attend the services. But I would guess that a major part of the churches’ mission is to help those found right outside their doors. Based on some of the things I see…various wall writings; a portable tent with flames from hell shooting skyward; a large cross in a field…there seems to be a strong push to reach out and save the ones who need it most. I hope they can help some of the poor unfortunate people along that strip of Chene.