The death of a formerly successful Grosse Pointe Woods man, whose body was discovered in a handicapped-accessibe portable toilet in St. Clair Shores earlier this month, ripped some of the veneer from the problem of homelessness in southeast Michigan.
Gary Szarek, 63, was a smart, technically savvy high achiever on the CEO track who attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, liked to dance and was social, and buzzed around in a sports car, the Detroit Free Press reports.
Szarek was known simply as an unidentified homeless man for several days after his body was discovered in the portable toilet near the 9 Mile boat ramp earlier this month. St. Clair Shores police said he had probably died three months earlier of hypothermia in a brutally cold Michigan winter.
The toilets have locks, offering a degree of security, and the urinals double as makeshift fire pits. Trash had been stuffed in vents and the walls had been lined with trash to insulate the small space against harsh winds and elements.
“The guy ended up dying cold and lonely, holed up in a Porta-John,” St. Clair Shores Police Detective Sgt. Jay Cohoe told the Free Press. “The whole situation is pretty sad.”
But that wasn’t always Szarek’s life. His family members told the Free Press he quit his job when he didn’t get a promotion and became increasingly reclusive. He lost his 2,000-square-foot Grosse Pointe Woods home to tax foreclosure in 2010 and he had been living on the streets since then.
Face of Poverty is Increasingly Suburban
Szarek’s face, in many ways, is the new face of poverty.
In their book “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America,” researchers Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube write their analysis of trends showed one that surprised them: There are more poor people living outside of big cities than in them.
Their findings are mirrored in a recent report by the human services provider Lighthouse of Oakland County, which works in Michigan’s most affluent county. Its analysis revealed a stunning 77 percent increase in poverty in Oakland County during the Great Recession years of 2005-2012 – a “seismic shift,” in where poverty resides, officials said.
At a news conference announcing the findings in the Lighthouse report, a woman who lost her Ferndale home after losing a job as a marketing manager of Fortune 500 companies, called herself “the new face of poverty.”
“It’s not somebody in the deepest part of Detroit or Pontiac,” she said. “It’s somebody standing next to you in the grocery store who can’t afford the broccoli.”
Or it may be a man who died alone in a portable toilet.
Also on Patch:
- ‘Officer, You’re Under Arrest’: Tables Turned on 2 Dozen Detroit Cops