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Riot Breaks Out At Housing Assistance Event In Metro Detroit

TAYLOR (WWJ) - An event designed to help assist Michigan families with housing expenses turned into a chaotic scene after there was a mad rush to collect Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers.

The incident happened Saturday morning at the Wayne County Family Health Services Center on Eureka Road, between Beech Daly and Inkster roads in Taylor -- where thousands of people were waiting to get housing vouchers, many who had been waiting outside in the cold since the night before.

Reports say the amount of people who showed up looking for assistance heavily outweighed the number of vouchers to be distributed. As the night was fading away and the sun started to shine, the crowd continued to grow as more and more people arrived. According to reports, only 1,000 vouchers were available for distribution. An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people were in attendance.

When it came time for the vouchers to be distributed, police said there was a mad rush for the door, with people jockeying for position to be the first inside the building. Officers tried to control the crowd, but couldn't. Fearing the situation was more than they could handle, event organizers shut the entire thing down and turned off the lights inside the building. Witnesses say that's when things really got ugly.

Star Lee, of Romulus, described the scene as complete chaos.

"People just don't have order to themselves, you know what I mean? People were fighting and throwing chairs, and that's just not necessary. We were asked to just come and line up and, you know, make things simple. They shut it down before it even got started and it's just sad because some people really needed this help, this assistance," she said.

Candice Wacasey, of Taylor, said she was frightened.

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Garbage litters the ground at a human services building in Taylor where thousands of people rioted when a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher distribution event was cancelled. (WWJ Photo/Beth Fisher)

"When the lights went out, it went horrible. People started trampling over people, there was a disabled lady that was in a wheelchair and they was trying to knock her over to get in front of her. I mean, just crazy," she said.

Lenny Syer, of Melvindale, said some people lost all inhibitions, even muscling small children out-of-the-way.

"There was people who was physically putting their hands on people's childs (sic) and moving them. It was unbelievable," he said.

Additional help was called in from Michigan State Police, who helped Taylor police control the melee and disperse the crowd. Four people were arrested, but police say no one was injured.

Police say the event will be rescheduled, although specific details still need to be worked out.

"Due to the high demand of the Section 8 vouchers, we will meet with HUD Representatives to discuss the series of events, re-evaluate the distribution method and implement a process that ensures a greater level of efficiency and safety," Mary Radamacher, Director of the Taylor Housing Commission, said in a statement.

Some of those in attendance Saturday said they hope organizers will be extra cautious and bring in additional security to insure things go differently next time.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program is the federal government's major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly and the disabled to afford decent, safe and sanitary housing in the private market. A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the government on behalf of the participating family, which then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program.

The maximum housing assistance is generally the lesser of the payment standard minus 30 percent of the family's monthly adjusted income, or the gross rent for the unit minus 30 percent of monthly adjusted income, according to HUD.

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