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February 28, 1997 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily, 1997-02-28

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10 - The Michigan Daily - Friday, February 28, 1997

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I

I

BY MEG EXLEY

Daily Staff Reporter

Nestled between a U-Haul storage office
and the Fireside Dell, the Washtenaw
County men's Night Shelter Is easily over-
looked. In the dark, the old deteriorating
facility becomes recognizable when two
shadowy figures linger In the yellow gare
of the single light at the shelter's entrance
on West Huron Avenue. The smoke from
their cigarettes hangs in the cold February
air. Their silhouettes are reminiscent of a
surreal painting - except this Is real.
As University students finish their
midterm exams and look forward to the
upcoming break today, Ann Arbor's home-
less problem is probably far from their
thoughts. For students burdened with home-
work and personal concerns, it becomes
easy to overlook the obvious. When encoun-
tering the numerous homeless people that
line South State Street and South University
Avenue, students often walk by, pretending
to be deeply engrossed in thought or fum-
bling for something in a bag.
Over the past few years it appears that the
area's homeless problem has gotten worse.
Not everyone is getting the help they need.
"Statistics on the number of homeless
people in the area show that the current
facilities are very inadequate (to accomo-
date them)," said Olaf Lidums, interim
executive director of the Shelter
Association of Washtenaw County.
"While estimates do vary, we have reason
to believe that there are between 1,200 to
1,500 homeless individuals in Washtenaw
County," Lidums said. "We also believe that
50 or so of these individuals are not being
sheltered at all on a consistent basis."
Currently, the Night Shelter on West
Huron Avenue is the only facility in
Washtenaw County that provides shelter to
homeless men every night.
"While having the existing shelters, like
the Huron men's shelter, is better than
being on the cold streets, it's nowhere
(near) a dignified place for an individual to
be," Lidums said. "It's very frustrating to
know what needs to be done but to be con-
strained by limits, like funding, that prohib-
it the actual implementation of the plans."
The Men'NIght Shelter
The minute one sets foot in the men's
Night Shelter, it is obvious it is not an
atmosphere of comfort or a place many
would want to call "home."
An overflow of men crowd the unfin-
ished plywood staircase near the entrance.
Huddling under blankets, they attempt to
get some sleep - a nearly impossible task
in the cramped facility.
The Night Shelter can adequately house
52 men per night. However, some shelter res-
idents said the demand for beds is so high
that men are turned away nearly every night
of the week due to a lack of space.
On an average night, men can be found
sleeping in hallways and in corners of
rooms. Residents said that in extreme
cases, like bitter cold, individuals have
camped out in the bathroom.
"The overcrowding is the most pressing
problem," said Brian, a 22-year-old shelter
resident. "On a nightly basis, we have 80
to 90 guys that need a place to go. There is
absolutely no privacy, no place to be by
yourself. There simply is no place to put
everybody."
The shelter is constantly plagued by a
lack of supplies. Basic items, like toilet
paper, soap and shaving cream, are donat-
ed daily by local businesses and individu-
als. But, as Brian emphasized, the products
are often hard to come by at the shelter
because many residents are vying for them
at once.
The single bathroom area is reminiscent
of a roadside stop on the highway. Luxuries
like shower curtains or working stall doors
are rare.
"The first rule of the shelter is that every-
one has to shower nightly," Brian said.
"But this rule is virtually uninforceable
because there are only four shower stalls. It

would take all night to give all 80 or so
guys ten minutes to use the showers. It's a
situation that just doesn't work."
Resident Eddie McCullough said the
lack of shower and bathroom space con-
cerns many of the residents.

"I wake up every morning
at 5 a.m. just to be able to get
the shower," resident Eddie
McCullough said. "And the
showers are all nasty - dirty
tiles, moldy floors. You
don't even want to touch the
walls."
Dealing with the hygeine
habits of other residents is
also frustrating, McCollough
said.
"I mean, who wants to
come into a shower, like
after work or in the morning,
that smells like dirty feet,
body odor, bad breath -
that's no way to take care of
yourself," McCullough said.
"It's hard to really confront
someone about stuff like
that, too, since it's a personal
thing."
Brian said many of the res-
idents at the Night Shelter
have been homeless for so
long that they don't seem to
care about matters like per-
sonal hygeine and appear-
ance anymore.
"I have two jobs and a
girlfriend - I need to have a
decent appearance," Brian
said. "But some guys in here,
their self-esteem is so low
that it's gotten to the point
that they don't take care ofm v a r 'l
themselves anymore. It,'s like
they've almost given up."
Staff is also in short supply
at the Night Shelter. On aver-
age, at least three staff mem-
bers are supposed to be at the
shelter each night. However,
the ratio of staff to residents is
one staff member per 30 resi-
dents, Lidums said.
Charlotte, a shelter employ-
ee since last September, said
not having enough help Shelter resi
makes it hard to get every- He has sta
thing done. - --
"We only have, two or
three staff people here every night and when
you constantly are having to make shelter
rounds and bed checks and generally just
keeping an eye on things, it's hard to get
things like laundry and cleaning done," she
said.
The shelter has two working washers and
driers. The dirty laundry frequently over-
flows out of the wash room and piles up in
the narrow hallway.
"If we
had more
showers Want to help?
and more Men's Night Shelter
towels, the 420 W. Huron
shower 662-2829
rule might Women's Shelter
be more Main St. at Felch
realistic," 930-0313
Charlotte Ashley Place (Day
said. "We Center)
haven't 112 S. Ashley
been get- 668-7273
ting many
volunteers
to help out with stuff like laundry and
cleaning. Residents simply have to do with-
out."
Many residents have suggestions about
improving the quality of life at the shelter
and getting on the road to self-sufficiency,
including on-site counselors at the Night
Shelter and more affordable public hous-
ing in Washtenaw County.
"I think something beneficial that the
(city administration) should look into is to
construct a new building that is big enough
to house all of the programs in the Shelter
Association," Brian said. "It would make
much more sense to have the day-center
programs, both men's and women's night
shelters, a support staff and administrative

offices, like transient housing, all in one
place so people don't have to spend hours
and hours wandering around the city to get
everything done."
The Women's Shelter
Since December, the men's and

JENIFER BRADLLE-SWITUai y
ident Paul Burke sleeps in the upstairs dormatory of the Men's Night Shelter on Huron Street.
yed in the shelter for the past one and a half months.

women's night shelters have been housed
in separate facilities. Both night shelter pro-
grams were initially wedged into the W.
Huron Street location.
By separating the facilities, 30 extra
spaces were created in the men's shelter.
The women's facility, which is temporarily
located in an office building on Main Street
until April, can house up to 30 residents per
night and has a separate office space for on-

S

site administra-
tive purposes.
"The Women's
Shelter was
designed to be a
kind of model for
the community,"
Lidums said.
"We hope that its
new approach
will be imple-
mented eventual-

ly to a men's
shelter."
The shelter
expects a shipment of bunk beds next week
that will allow the shelter to house women
with children or homeless families in emer-
gency situations.
According to early reports, the new pro-
gram appears to be successful in accelerat-
ing the rate at which women are able to
become self-sufficient again.
"I think an important key to the initial
success of this new program is the better
staff to resident ratio," shelter manager
Tammy Koupal said.
"In comparison to the men's shelter, we
have a 1:15 ratio instead of a 1:30 ratio,"
Koupal said. "This basically means that
there is more opportunity to provide
women with more one-on-one attention
and counseling."
Koupal said that having separate facili-
ties also has served to provide an atmo-
phere that feels more secure and safe for
the female residents.
"When the shelters were combined,

some of the female residents had some
problems in regards to sexual harassment,"
said Amy Atwell, the Women's Shelter
program coordinator.
"From all reports, this new arrangement
seems to be better for both sides - there is
less tension. Having (separate facilities)
also provides us the opprtunity to address
issues that specifically relate to females'
problems, as well."
Atwell said many new support groups
are being developed at the shelter.
"Beginning next week, we'll be holding
workshops and information sessions on
topics like HIV and STD prevention and
awareness and women's health issues,"
Atwell said. "We are also in the process of
forming substance abuse support groups
and domestic violence support groups that
we hope will be implemented within the
next few weeks."
"We are very lucky to have this facility,"
Koupal said. "At this point I think the most
pressing problem facing the Shelter
Association as a whole and the Washtenaw
area is to create, or at least upgrade, the
men's shelter to an adequate level. There
needs to be an equal shelter than can meets
their needs as well - (homelessness) is not
a one-sided problem."
Though the Women's Shelter is not fac-
ing the understaffing problem that the
men's shelter is, both facilities are in des-
perate need of community aid and support.
"Having people to just come in to volun-
teer with anything - laundry, cleaning,
anything - would be a tremendous help,"
Charlotte said.
"We've had volunteers in the past come
in on the weekends to help out, but they
seem to just come and go," Brian said.
Lidums said that about a dozen volun-
teers currently work with the Shelter
Association.
"We definitely would welcome anyone
who is willing to donate some of their time,
especially students," Lidums said.
Lidums referred to a successful shelter
program in South Bend, Ind., as an exam-
ple for the Ann Arbor shelters' potential.
"The comparable program in South Bend
gets most of their volunteers from Notre
Dame and St. Mary's College," Lidums
said. "In any one month they utilize 400 to
500 volunteers to help keep their programs
going."
LSA senior Tim Zisman started volunteer-
ing at the men's Night Shelter last
September. He was eventually offered a reg-
ular job and is now a permanent employee.
Zisman said he became involved in vol-
unteering while at the University through
Project Serve. However, he chose to come
to the men's Night Shelter on his own.
"Since I've always had a passion for
issues about homelessness and poverty, I
figured this would be a way I could learn

County task
A0
force alms
for lasting
solutions
By Meg Exley
Daily Staff Reporter
Responding to the growing homelessness
problem, Washtenaw County administrators
created a county-wide Task Force on
Homelessness last fall to pursue solutions.
The task force is comprised of representatives
from the city and county governments, local
business professionals and homeless advocates
throughout the community.
"The idea (for the task force) came from sug-
gestions given by advocate groups who recog-
nized the need for long-term solutions to the
homeless problem in the area," said County
Administrator Bob Gunzel.
Gunzel, one of three task-force chairs, said
the information currently being compiled by the
subcommittees helps find workable strategies to
combat the homeless problem.
"At this point, (the task-force chairs) expect
that when all of the subcommittees meet on
March 18th to present their final reports (to the
city and county governments), we will hopeful-
ly have a clearer vision on how to implement
the best plan for the community," Gunzel said.
Gunzel said public discourse and comments
are welcome at the March 18 meeting. He said
the city and county governments have been
very supportive of the task force since it was
established.
"They have been very committed to help-
ing with the activities and research that the
subcommittees have been conducting,"
Gunzel said. "I think the best evidence of their
support is their interest in long-range funding
for the improvement of homelessness pro-
grams and shelters in the area."
The Ann Arbor City Council unanimously
passed a resolution during the regular council
session Jan. 21 to publicly voice its commitment
to the Task Force on Homelessness.
The resolution, proposed by councilmembers
Jean Carlberg (D-3rd Ward), Patricia Vereen-
Dixon (D- st Ward), and Patrick Putman (-4th
Ward), emphasized the need to look at all of the
resources available to improve the facilities
offered to the homeless.
"We need to start putting our actions where
are mouths are," Vereen-Dixon said during the
council meeting. "I am committed to say more
than words - I am ready for action."
Olaf Lidums, interim executive director of the
Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, said.
he was impressed by the commitment of the city
and county governments.
"(I think) they are very cognizant of the
problems, by virtue of their approval of addi-
tional funds for more staffing and rehabilita-
tion," Lidums said.
I

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