Homelessness survey results released

The central U.P. now has the most accurate picture that it’s ever had of homeless residents, but the group that took the picture wants to help the homeless by reaching out to other residents on a personal level.

The Alger Marquette Continuum of Care is trying to eliminate homelessness by 2016. The group presented data Tuesday morning from the most comprehensive survey of the homeless community ever performed in Marquette and Alger Counties.

“We’re not like Chicago; I mean, you’re not going to go down the street and see the stereotypical homeless person,” Jason Parks of Child and Family Services of the Upper Peninsula said. “But they’ve been put in these terrible situations, and usually through no fault of their own. What can we do to help them get back into housing and stability?”

Some of the data surprised even the people who collected it. For example, the homeless population of Marquette and Alger Counties may be much larger than anyone had previously thought. “815,” Parks said. “They estimate closer to 1,100. That’s a big number.”

More than 200 of the area’s homeless residents are children, and their average age is 8. “I have kids of my own; they’re 6 and 7,” Parks said. “They’re looking at Christmas toys at this time of year, not where they’re going to sleep tonight.”

“One of the things that we felt was important, in addition to revealing the data, would be to communicate the stories of these families and individuals that are homeless,” AMCAB housing services director Amy Lerlie said. To do that, the continuum showed a new, locally-produced short documentary film, “Homeless: Leaving the Wilderness”.

“The stories are truly compelling; I think people will find it enlightening,” Lerlie said. “It’s not at all what people think it is, the reasons that folks find themselves in this position.”

One of the residents appearing in the film said during the film that two longtime friends wondered how he became homeless and asked him, ” ‘Are you drinking? Are you doing drugs?, and I tell them, ‘no; I have enough problems!”

The next big event for the Continuum of Care is the point-in-time survey in late January. It’s a one-day snapshot of the homeless population, and it’s conducted across the country.

The group also presented the first-ever Helen McCormick Award for outstanding volunteer service to homeless residents. McCormick herself received the award. She’s the founder of Room at the Inn, the homeless shelter program hosted on a rotating basis by many Marquette-area churches.