Homelessness in the Grand Traverse Region

Many of us go about our daily lives, whether it be taking classes or going to work, without considering what it would be like to be homeless.  Tonight we will sleep in our warm beds, while over 600 people in our community will not.  The truth is more than 600 people in the Grand Traverse region are living in shelters or on the streets.

What defines homelessness?

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the federal definition of homelessness is someone who lacks a fixed or adequate nighttime residence.  HUD goes on to add, homelessness can be defined as someone who resides in a place not designed for sleeping or someone who resides at a temporary living accommodation, such as: shelters, transition housing, and welfare hotels.  In 2005, the local Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan ran a survey on the region’s homeless count and found 619 people were homeless.

Who are the homeless?

photo by Bart Everson via flickr

There are many misconceptions in relation to the homeless population.  According to the Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan, over half of the homeless population in our region is single or two parent families.  Astonishingly, within the greater Grand Traverse region, 37% of the homeless population are under the age of 19.  Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan also states the homeless population is composed of 26% female, 37% male, and 37% child.

A  September 2010 report from Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan says the number of people served by the Goodwill Inn has been increasing.  In 2009, Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan provided emergency shelter for 703 individuals.  The cumulative data collected in September 2010 for emergency shelter provided is 727, with three cold months to be added to that figure at the end of the year.  Another alarming statistic is the increase of people who are repeat guests from 2009 to 2010.  In 2009, there were 297 individuals who had returned back to the Goodwill Inn of Northern Michigan for shelter.  The year-to-date numbers for September 2010 are already at 343 individuals.

The homeless population is diverse and extends from individuals living on the street, to those going to school, or those struggling to find work.  Ultimately the homeless are people just like you and I. They are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters.

What are the contributing factors of homelessness?

Many of us know family or friends that have been impacted by the current economic crisis and are living paycheck to paycheck, or as some might say, a paycheck away from the streets.  Though the economy has impacted homelessness, there are many remaining factors that result in homelessness.  According to the local Goodwill Industries, In the Grand Traverse region, the primary reason for homelessness is eviction.  Job loss is the second highest reason for homelessness, with the remaining reasons being domestic violence, divorce, family conflict, mental health, medical condition, and reduced hours at work.  These reasons are complex and present an uphill battle for the homeless.

How should the homeless be treated?

Whether we are aware of it or not, many of us encounter homelessness on a daily basis.  The truth is, many individuals feel uncomfortable and uncertain about how to act towards the homeless.  Father Fred, one of Traverse City’s most known philanthropists, modeled respect and dignity toward all people, especially the homeless.  About a year ago, the Record Eagle published an article entitled, “The Real Father Fred.”  The article recalls a story that illustrates Father Fred’s empathy and passion to help those in need.  According to the article, when hearing of a family facing utility shutoff on a cold winter day, Father Fred went to three local bars on Union Street and passed his hat around until he had raised enough money to pay for the family’s utility bill.  Father Fred remains to be our community’s model of how the poor and homeless should be treated.  It is important to treat the homeless with dignity and respect, while being non-judgmental about their living situation. 

How can I get Involved?

Local agencies are working to prevent those at risk for becoming homeless and providing direct services for the homeless.  These agencies need our support to continue providing essential assistance for our community.  For further information about how you can help these agencies, visit our Get Involved page, where you will find links to the local agencies under the resources column.

Please take our 1 question poll below.  This poll is collecting data for a Ferris State University class project.

Sources: Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan – “Vision to End Homelessness in the Greater Grand Traverse Region” – http://www.tcaps.net/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=u4qndotRhKU%3D&tabid=2514&mid=5774 – http://record-eagle.com/faith/x1071718858/The-real-Father-Fred

October 31, 2010