Ken Leslie

Ken Leslie, an alumnus of Perrysburg High School, founded Tent City. 

PERRYSBURG -- When it comes to looking at passionate individuals, it isn't difficult to figure out where one's inspiration comes from. For Ken Leslie and Tent City, that inspiration has always been rooted in the empathy that humanity has for one another.

Leslie, a 1975 graduate of Perrysburg High School, works relentlessly to rewrite the narrative for the underhoused and the perceptions that society has of them. Tent City, which was held in October, started in 1990 and brings the community together to provide solutions for homeless people on a one-on-one basis. The weekend encampment in Toledo provides medical, dental, food, clothing, the return to housing, and other services to those in need.

There are a few stereotypes about underhoused people that Leslie said are generally used when people are building their perceptions. The usual stereotypes are that those without adequate housing are mentally ill, substance abusers, not well taken care of or lazy.

With first-hand knowledge of what it's like to be among the underhoused, Leslie said there are many similarities between those who have plenty and those who lack.

"To most people the 'homeless' are nothing more than vague faces of poverty reflected in the mirror of a society afraid to even look, much less help. To we who live, laugh, love and serve with them, they are friends that matter. God's precious children who are hurting and dying while craving, aching and struggling for mental, physical, emotional and financial serenity. They are just like you and me, it's just they do not have a home."

Not sure why people tend to judge rather than assist, Leslie has always said, "Why is that when people are the most vulnerable we step on them and tell them to get a job? When people meet the people that are homeless, then do they realize -- and only then do they realize -- that they aren't who they think they are. In fact, they're just like you and me."'

Leslie to be proactive created Tent City, which falls under the umbrella of his 1Matters organization, which also coordinates other charitable endeavors.

"That's what caused it and even now at least one third of the people that are underhoused are families with children. That's what made me start it," he said.

"I was mad that there were kids on the streets. We were recording a comedy at the time. I was a comedian and I was traveling the country and I started to see more and more people become homeless and we were doing a comedy album when I read that statistic."

Leslie said he turned to his fellow comedians and crafted a plan.

"Tent City is the evolution of that solution, because we didn't know what to do. Now Tent City is a starting point for people to become engaged with how to help people who may need help," Leslie said.

"The good in humankind is already born in us, and you can prove it to anybody. If you've ever gone out and done something for someone else and expect nothing in return, how do you feel? That's the good that's inside all of us. You have to learn to hate the different, and the good is inside every single one of us."

Leslie believes that experiences such as Tent City allow people to practice their innate desire to show compassion.

"Humankind that's our nature, that's the way that we were designed to be and all I'm doing is what the Bible and whatever good book, no matter your religion says. Go out and love all."

Leslie said that people's perceptions are always changed after experiencing Tent City. "Oh, yeah it's like throwing a grenade into their perceptions."

The mission behind Tent City has always been the same and will continue to remain consistent.

'It's a weekend-long festival of compassion. That's really what it is and that's what it's always been and that's what it will always be. It's about people meeting people. It's about the power of one being able to change lives, because a lot of people come down and both the volunteers and the guest have some preconceived notion about who they are. The self-discovery that comes provides a great deal of hope.

"When you leave Tent City ... you leave feeling good about yourself and about the world, and you know that good can happen, and you know the power of good."

Perrysburg grad Ken Leslie talks about Tent City