Local groups to observe National Homeless Awareness Week

In recognition of National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, Love INC of Manistee plans to display cutouts depicting silhouettes and accompanying stories of former homeless individuals who have agreed to share their journey through hardship and success. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate)

In recognition of National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, Love INC of Manistee plans to display cutouts depicting silhouettes and accompanying stories of former homeless individuals who have agreed to share their journey through hardship and success. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — As the cold weather begins to set in, many people start preparing for the upcoming holiday season.

Still, others spend most of their days trying to figure out where they are going to sleep for the night.

The week of Nov. 11 is National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, traditionally held the week before Thanksgiving. Manistee County Human Services Collaborative Body (HSCB) members take part in this nationwide effort to bring greater awareness to the problems of hunger and homelessness in the local area.

“This week presents an opportunity for our local service agencies to educate the community and our elected leaders on what is really happening in our community,” said Judy Crockett, coordinator of the Manistee County collaborative. “This is just a week where we can come together to draw attention to poverty and homelessness and to talk about solutions and ways to reduce homelessness in Manistee County.”

Since 2009, Love INC of Manistee and Benzie counties has opened doors to the area’s homeless through its Safe Harbor program, providing meals and shelter to individuals and families at rotating host sites during the coldest months of the year.

In recognition of National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, Love INC officials plan to display cutouts they’ve created, depicting silhouettes and accompanying stories of former homeless individuals who have agreed to share their journey through hardship and success.

“These are individuals we’ve served, who were previously homeless,” said Robin Paulus, executive director of Love INC. “They are telling their story on how they became homeless and how Love INC, Safe Harbor and other community agencies helped them in the process of getting back to having their own home.

“That’s one way we’re spreading awareness: telling the stories of the many faces of homelessness.”

Paulus said the silhouettes will be displayed at various churches in Benzie and Manistee counties.

On a national level, National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week was selected because it is a time when most people reflect on their lives and find gratitude and thanksgiving for what they have, and where they live. But there are others who are unable to sit around a family table as low income, lack of attainable housing and even destitution prevent them from enjoying the gifts that so many share.

Paulus said public recognition of homelessness is especially important to the area, considering the problem is often times hidden from plain sight.

“For many years, people were uncertain if we even had homelessness in our area, because we’re rural,” she said. “But homelessness doesn’t always look like it does in an urban area, with people camped out under a bridge or sitting on the sidewalk.

“Homelessness has a different face in rural areas,” she added. “Sometimes it means sleeping at a friend’s for the night, sleeping in a car, or in the woods. They’re not always visible. This week is a chance to make it visible in Manistee and Benzie counties.”

The United Way produces an ALICE Report — Asset Limited, Income Constrained- Employed — which describes households that earn more than the Federal Poverty Level, but less than the basic cost of living for the county. When ALICE household numbers are combined with the number of households in poverty, it shows nearly 40 percent of the households in Manistee County are struggling. That report can be accessed online at www.uwmanistee.org.

“We have a number of agencies and individuals in Manistee County who work tirelessly to help those in need and those facing homelessness,” said Crockett. “And while we make progress, and while we are serving many, we still have a ways to go to make housing attainable for everyone, and at every income level.

“It is important to understand that we cannot sum up what it means to be homeless with a single broad stroke,” she added. “Our homeless, including those on the verge of becoming homeless, are made up of seniors, veterans, families, children, young adults, mentally ill, and still others facing addiction.

“And there are just as many reasons that we have homeless people including low wages, loss of employment, divorce, domestic violence, illnesses and a lack of attainable housing stock.”

Crockett said every community should look at their total housing stock and compare it to their local income levels, in an effort to determine how housing needs in a community are being met. She said it is a personal issue when determining what the term “affordable” housing means. It means something different to each family, based typically on income and lifestyle needs and choices.

“Solving the problem of homelessness takes a collective, community effort to identify barriers and seek solutions that bring relief to those in need,” Crockett said. “Together, we can do this.”

Love INC’s Safe Harbor program is currently underway in Manistee and still has plenty of volunteer opportunities available. Monetary donations toward Safe Harbor supplies are always accepted as well, Paulus said.

Those interested in volunteering or donating are asked to contact Lisa Clarke at (231) 723-6613 or visit the local Love INC office, located at 390 River St., Suite 103.

The organization is also in the initial stages of setting up a Safe Harbor program in Benzie County. Love INC will hold a pair of public question and answer sessions, entitled “The Many Faces of Homelessness” at 2 p.m. on Nov. 14 at Frankfort United Methodist Church (537 Crystal Ave. in Frankfort) and at 6 p.m. on Nov. 15 at the First Congregational Church in Benzonia (901 Barber St.).

“We’re hoping to answer any of the public’s questions about the Safe Harbor program,” Paulus said. “People need to be aware that these aren’t individuals that choose to sleep on the streets.

“Frankly, most people in our society live paycheck to paycheck and could easily be in this situation if they suddenly lose their jobs,” she said. “They could be a neighbor, a relative, a best friend.”

Manistee News Advocate staff writer Dylan Savela contributed to this report.

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