By Diana Hanna
The face of homelessness can often be hidden from view.
Unlike, in urban areas where homeless people are in plain sight on street corners and sidewalks, homelessness is not as evident in rural communities like ours.
Take one perspective from among the personal stories we have encountered at TrueNorth Community Services. Let’s call her Carol.
Carol had a good-paying job three years ago when she got into a car accident. That caused her to be unable to work and pay her bills. She ended up losing her job, and that led to her to losing her home through foreclosure.
Because she could not pay for electricity nor water, she lived without either. She bathed with water bottles filled at a friend’s home. She washed clothes by hand. She managed to get by and survive.
Carol applied for disability, but such assistance does not come quickly. While awaiting word on disability, she was forced to leave her home. She had to, at least temporarily, move and live in a tent in Manistee National Forest.
But life did not get any easier nor cheaper for her. She found being homeless is expensive.
Carol had no means to preserve food. That meant relying on non-perishable food from pantries. She also needed to keep gas in her car to get donated food, seek places to shower and clean up, and search for temporary jobs to earn money.
She found ways to take care of things, often doing so before meeting her own individual needs.
Carol was embarrassed to reach out for help, having always been able be self-supportive. But as last winter approached, desperation set in.
So, she went to TrueNorth and found help. She got food from the TrueNorth Food Pantry and the Feeding America West Michigan mobile food pantry. She got approved for a federally-funded housing voucher to get into a rental home.
Carol is just one face, or composite, of homelessness in a rural community.
There were an estimated 66,483 people homeless in Michigan in 2016, according to a Michigan State Development Authority report released in October. Those included 9,975 families with children, with 69 percent of those from single-parent homes.
While there has been a 9 percent decrease in homeless the past two years (credited to expansion of the Healthy Michigan state Medicaid program), the reality is reducing homelessness does not come easily.
While the average single parent needs to make $3,680 per month to make ends meet, the average income for homeless families was $770 monthly, according to the Michigan League of Public Policy. An estimated 15 percent (that’s about 1.45 million) of Michiganders live below the poverty line, the U.S. Census Bureau reported in September.
When there is no way to make ends meet, people lose their homes and become homeless.
The homeless in our community live in vehicles. They stay in camps. They couch surf. They reside in sheds and other places.
That is not a way to live and thrive. That is simply survival.
Providing shelter to help the needy is challenging. There are scarcities of places to shelter people temporarily. There is a shortage of affordable housing. There is a lack of public transportation.
TrueNorth Community Services is among many concerned parties working hard to help people who find themselves homeless for whatever reason.
As the Michigan State Housing Development Authority-designated housing resource agency for Newaygo, Lake, and Mason counties, TrueNorth worked with about 1,200 adults and children from 451 households last year. Those people needed our help to find shelter, comfort and support.
There are many ways for you to help reduce homelessness. You can donate food to the TrueNorth Food Pantry or other local food banks or pantries. You can donate cash and/or gasoline cards. You can volunteer in a hands-on way. If you’re a landlord, you can provide an affordable residence.
Shelter and food are basic needs. Please do your part to help the homeless.
Diana Hanna is hunger and homeless services director for TrueNorth Community Services, which is based in Fremont. Hanna oversees efforts engaging Newaygo, Lake, and Mason counties.
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