Matt Helms, Detroit Free Press 11:26 p.m. EST November 13, 2015
(Photo: Jessica J. Trevino, Detroit Free Press)
Help is coming for Willie Payne, the man who was lured to a McDonald’s drive-through window in Detroit with the promise of a sandwich only to have a worker toss a cup of water in his face, causing international outrage after video of the incident went viral.
Royal Oak lawyer Brian Dailey has been meeting with Payne to help arrange for mental health treatment and perhaps a better living situation for the 63-year-old who frequently panhandled at the McDonald’s. Dailey and his staff have set up a website, www.keepwilliewarm, where updates about him will be posted, and a fund-raising effort at gofundme.com/keepwilliewarm.
At the Dailey Law Firm in Royal Oak on Friday, Payne spoke to the Free Press with the help of his longtime neighbor Craig Hobson. Payne battles unspecified mental illness, and the law firm was working to have Payne assessed by a doctor next week so that he can get proper treatment.
He speaks not always coherently, but with Hobson’s gentle verbal prodding, Payne expressed the frustration he felt during the encounter and seeing the video of it on television.
“It upset me,” Payne said of the incident at the McDonald’s on Grand River near Schaefer, on the city’s northwest side. “I felt bad, but what are you going to do?”
Asked what he would say to the worker who threw the water at him, Payne said: “You did wrong, and you reap what you sow.”
Little is known about Payne’s life story. He said he was born in Detroit and has a living sister, although her whereabouts weren’t known. Hobson said Payne has rented space in the basement of a home in the neighborhood near the McDonald’s for years, but he has no known conservator or guardian. Sometimes, he disappears from the home for months at a time.
Dailey said Payne may have served time in prison for manslaughter, but he was still researching the issue
Attorney Brian Daley at his Law Firm in Royal Oak on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. <span class=”credit”>(Photo: Jessica J. Trevino Detroit Free Press)</span>
But Dailey said the details of his life matter far less than the inhumane treatment he received at the hands of the McDonald’s employee. He said Friday that Willie Payne deserves better.
“What we need to know about Willie is that he needs help, and what we need to know about Willie is that he’s not getting that,” Dailey said. “He suffered a very degrading act.”
Dailey said the incident symbolizes society’s mistreatment and stigmatization of some of society’s most helpless people. In addition to the effort to provide better medical care, clothing, more stable housing and other assistance to Payne, Dailey said he hopes Payne’s case will bring more attention to the broader issue of how people with mental illness — some of them very challenging to treat — end up on the street or sent to prisons not designed to care for them.
Dailey, who has known Payne’s neighbor Hobson for years, said he saw the video of the incident and later heard from Hobson, who told him that he knows Payne well. Dailey said the incident hit home for him because his family has dealt with the impact of severe mental illness, including his brother, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and ultimately committed suicide.
Dailey said he has been dissatisfied with the response from both the Detroit McDonald’s franchise owner and from the larger corporation about what happened to Payne.
Dailey said he plans on asking the franchisee, Wise Finley, and McDonald’s to do more financially to bring attention to the issue of mistreatment of people like Willie Payne, who often have no one to speak for them.
Finley issued a statement deploring what happened and saying <a href=”http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2015/11/10/mcdonalds-detroit-homeless-water/75519112/”>the employee had been fired</a>, and did not respond to a request for additional comment Friday. A spokeswoman at the corporate headquarters of McDonald’s would not respond to questions about whether McDonald’s would work with Dailey’s effort.
“Willie is entitled to dignity,” Dailey said. “He’s one of God’s children, just like you and I.”
Sheilah Clay, president and CEO of the Neighborhood Services Organization in Detroit, which provides help for homeless people among others, said that despite cuts in recent decades to mental health services, there is still a robust system available. Getting people to accept help isn’t easy, though.
She said that people like Willie Payne too often don’t have safe, careful oversight of their lives, and sometimes they’re taken advantage of by family members or friends.
“There are mental health services out there, a full continuum, but when you’re struggling with mental illness, addiction and homelessness, those are the people you will see out on the street,” Clay said. “This is not the easiest population to serve, especially if the issue is around chronic homelessness. They have to want to do it, and sometimes the mental illness and addiction interfere with rational thinking.”
Clay said society “has a habit of criminalizing mental illness” rather than providing resources to help.
Of Dailey’s effort, Clay said: “I’m glad to hear that he wants to step forward and help in some way. It’s a huge problem not only in Detroit, but across the country.”
In addition to Dailey’s efforts, a group of Detroit pastors led by Bishop Darryl Harris of Total Life Christian Ministries will be meeting on Saturday about raising money and household goods through their churches to help Willie. Harris, a human rights commissioner for the City of Detroit, said the group is likely to coordinate efforts with the Dailey firm