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January 09, 2008 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2008-01-09

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you see are the smallest percentage of
that population."
About 10 percent of people. living
under the poverty level will experience
homelessness at one point in a year,
Collins said. In Washtenaw County,
that translated to about 3,884 people.
Out of that population, 1,200 receive
help from the Shelter Association in
the Robert J. Delonis Center on Huron
Street, the only shelter in the county
that provides regular shelter to chroni-
cally homeless adults. Other organiza-
tions that provide sheltering services
have been victims of domestic abuse.
The population it serves is 75 percent
male, on average aged in their mid-for-
ties and in half of cases havingendured
one or more incidences of addiction,
mental illness or physical disability,
according to the shelter's demographic
statistics from 2006.
The Shelter Association's clientele is
the most difficult population to house,
Collins said. Whereas senior citi-
zens and families with children gar-
ner support from more organizations
and individual philanthropists, single
homeless adults are often left out in
the cold. There's a stigma surrounding
middle-aged men experiencing home-
lessness that doesn't apply to mothers
with children or the elderly. People
ask: Why don't they get jobs? The fol-
low-up question that slips the minds of
many is: What jobs?
To doomsayers, Michigan is an
economically anemic state that could
soon be crushed under the weight of
a looming nationwide recession. To
the excessively optimistic, budget cuts
and lay-offs are still all too common,
and tightened family budgets too snug.
But while people of every economic
standing in the state feel consequenc-
es - say, for example, cuts to higher
education funding - one population
teeters between making ends meet
at home and trying to survive on the
streets, and one financial bump can be
the difference.
Only 437 of the 6,051 homeless peo-
ple in Washtenaw County and its nine
surrounding counties were labeled
chronically homeless in a June 2006
state report, chronic. homelessness
being the term given to people who
have experienced a much-extended or
cyclical pattern of homelessness. The
other fraction - which included 1,532
adults with children and 2,322 single
adults - were people who had lived in
homes most of their lives. Nearly all of
the population lived below the poverty
level, while many had been reduced to
homelessness for the first time because
of an unexpected fiscal quandary -
health emergency, loss of employment
or the inability to afford vital psychiat-
ric drugs - leaving them short of hous-
ing funds.
Collins recounted the case of a man
who had came to the shelter after he
was fired from his job operating a fork-
lift and could no longer afford his rent.
Before then, the man had maintained
a good employment record and had
never been homeless. But he also had
a heart condition and no health'insur-
ance and was unable to afford it on top

of housing costs. Eventually, his con-
dition worsened to the point where it
affected his work - he lost hisjob, then
he lost his home.
Of course, not everyone encoun-
tered by the Shelter Association and
other relief organizations is free of
the obstacles that impede people from
getting back on their feet. In a 2005
study by University researchers, 287
of 469 Washtenaw County homeless
people admitted to having been home-
less before. 45 percent of those respon-
dents cited substance abuse as a cause
of their homelessness in the past.

of those issues and he's not homeless,"
Collins said. "The fundamental issue is
But regardless of the causes of home-
lessness, once you fall from housing
grace it's much harder to rejoin society
than quitting the bottle or taking the
right medication.
If the first step for a healthy, able-
bodied person to escape homelessness
is to get a job, how is that person to
receive a phone call to set up an inter-
view? But it's optimistic to think the
hiring process would get that far for
many minimum wage jobs. In a state
where positions are being cut at every
levelofthe economy,competitionexists
for any type of work, and the younger
candidate with a clean slate wins out

beds once their capacity is full. But no
one, as long as he or she isn't drunk or
noticeably high, is turned away, Col-
lins said. On bad nights, people in this
lower tier won't get a bed at the shelter,
are lucky to get a chair and most often
make due with a stretch of floor - beds
and chairs are filled by people in the
program's higher levels.
The two advanced levels, the win-
ter program and the night shelter pro-
gram, involve people who have made
a commitment to the program to get
clean and work with faculty to find
housing and employment. The night
shelter program, the highest level of
the system, provides participants with
beds and lockers, as well as case man-
agers who work with other organiza-
tions to locate affordable housing and
available jobs. Once set up with a job,
the 150 night shelter residents have
about 90 days to complete the program
with enough savings to move into sub-
sidized permanent housing where they
will be expected to pay 30 percent of
rent costs. The program doesn't per-
mit loitering at the final stage -there
is a waiting list of several people ready
to move on from the winter program,
Collins said.
The hierarchal structure of the
shelter's relief program can be frus-
trating forthe people it's meant to help,
though. Earnest Norfleet, a42-year-old
man from Detroit, said he came to Ann
Arbor to find a way to get his G.E.D.
and get back on his feet, but now wants
to return to Detroit after three years of
little progress. While he just finished a
rehabilitation program in Grand Rap-
ids to get clean, he's yet to reach the
higher levels of service and is running
out of patience with the program.
"It doesn't seem like it's working
right now, soI must move on," he said.
Norfleet said he thought the Shel-
ter Association's approach takes too
long, and that he resented the lack of
indoor refuge during the day when he
has nothing to do but walk the streets
lined with stores that won't hire him
- something, he said, he wouldn'thave
to do in Detroit.
"Their whole perspective is differ-
ent," he said. "It's not ghetto. It's more
Norfleet has been homeless on and
off since he was 23. He became home-
less again six years ago, losing an
apartment he had attained through a
Detroit housing program after he had
returned to old addictions and lost
his job. But before any of that, he had
dropped out of high school in the 10th
grade because of growing responsibil-
ity to take care of his siblings and unre-
solved emotional trauma from having
been physically and sexually abused by
an older man.
"Iwas alwaysmad aboutit," Norfleet
said. "Then I started acting out."
Collins said many people who only
patronize the basic services of the shel-
ter have to gradually build trust in the
organization before they can take steps
toward the program's completion. Peo-
ple who've been rejected by the system
all their lives are wary of stepping into
another one.


Onarctic winter mornings,.
there's little more to do than
pull your warmer clothes tight
around your body and hit the side-
walks, doing what you can to bear the
wind and wetness. During your day's
trek, you might find respite from the
elementsby dipping into a local library.
But instead of going home to a cozy
dorm room or apartment after the sun
sets and the libraries close, you search
out a stretch of floor or pavement with
something of a roof. Make due-it's
cold and you're homeless.
Homelessness is an ubiquitous pres-
ence on the fringes of the University
experience. Freshmen don't make it
past November without seeing a fig-
ure cloaked in a large, old coat that has
lodged itself in a building entrance to

combat the effects of the day's chill.
On any given day, several reports are
recorded in the Department of Public
Safety's incidentlog regarding sleeping
"unknown unaffiliates" being removed
from University buildings after hours.
And no students have escaped patting
down their pockets near the Diag after
being asked if they could "spare a little
change, my good friend?"
But what most students don't realize
is that whatthey see and hear concern-
ing Washtenaw County's homeless
population is the tip of the iceberg, and
a largelyunrepresentative tip at that.
What may seem like the most visible

example of homelessness near cam-
pus - panhandling on student-heavy
thoroughfares - is more often done by
people who have homes.
"Panhandlers aren't typically
homeless," said Jared Collins, develop-
ment director of the Shelter Associa-
tion of Washtenaw County. "They say
they are but they're not. Because of the
University, it's a very lucrative place to
The Michigan Daily reported pre-
viously that campus's most renowned
panhandler, a man named Ronnie who
greets passersby as his "good friends,"
has a home and panhandles around
campus between taking care of his ill
mother to raise money for a fashion-
able faux fur coat. Shakey Jake Woods,
a campus-renowned street musician

who died in September, lived in subsi-
dized housing.
A man named Sam, who refused to
give his last name to avoid embarrass-
ing his family, regularly panhandles
outside Borders to contribute to the
moneyneeded to fund of his daughter's
home in which he lives.
When asked, Sam said he was home-
less, but when invited to an interview
over sandwiches, he told the truth
about his housing situation and said
he'd rather continue collecting money.
"I just ate," he said. "I'm trying to
make me a few dollars. I'm using that
to subsidize because I ain't got no
Sam said the 30 dollars or so a day he
makes goes toward feeding his grand-

Many times, money given to down-
town panhandlers keeps a person
housed or a family fed, but the major-
ity of the county's homeless population
doesn't ask for donations to make a liv-
ing. They are usually people who were
recently housed and maintained jobs,
and are trying to get out of the rut of
homelessness, whether long or short,
that unexpectedly befell them.
Around the University, the real sig-
nifier of homelessness is the frequency
of calls reporting trespassers in closed
University buildings late at night. DPS
recorded 325 calls reporting trespass-
ing lastyear.

DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown
said the majority of these calls are
about homeless people who try to
escape the weather by sleeping in Uni-
versity buildings. But, she said, these
trespassers are more likely to be found
in parking structures rather than aca-
demic buildings and are often repeat
"If 20 people are encountered after
midnight, I don't think it's 20 individu-
als," Brown said. "It's a smaller group
of people encountered several times."
Besides the faces and incidents that
students most often associate with
homeless people, the general home-
less population of Ann Arbor doesn't
involve itself on campus.
"The homeless population is almost
invisible," Collins said. "The ones that

But 37 percent also cited mental ill-
ness as a cause, which is partly owed
to statewide health care problems
both past and present. While having
to choose between groceries and rent
puts many families at risk for home-
lessness, making a similar choice over
vital medication can be more strenuous
- there are no food
banks for psychiatric
drugs. In the 1990s,
the state saw growth The fi
in its homeless popu-
lation after the state erad
government moved to
shut down psychiatric homele
wards across the state,
doing little more than in th
letting the facilities'
patients go their own of lay
"A large percentage budge
of the homeless popu-
lation wasn't homeless a
10 years ago, they were and a
in psychiatric hos- o 1
pitals," Collins said. ofudl
"The places were hor-
rible and inhumane,
but they were better
than putting people on the street."
Mental illness and substance abuse
often manifests most severely after the
fact of homelessness. In cases where
they were present before, the two
conditions wouldn't have led to home-
lessness in most other people's lives,
Collins said.
"I do point out: Tom Cruise has all

over the middle-aged man looking for
another chance.
Even in the event that a homeless
person finds a job, he or she would be
hard pressed to find the landlord who
leases affordable housing and won't
bar the door because of spotty renting
and credit histories. If those landlords
areto be found, they're
likely based in another
city, where commut-
ght to ing to jobs in Ann
Arbor, the economic
icate hub of the county, can
be difficult without a
ssness car and late shifthours
are after bus schedule
e face times.
offs Tiers of service in
I shelters
t cuts To combat these
obstacles in Washt-
enaw County, going to
istorJy a relief organization
sla*n is the first step. In the
Shelter Association's
system, there are
. three tiers of services
provided to people
at different points of the program.
The first level is the emergency shel-
ter program, which provides anyone
with access to lunch and dinner in the
shelter's cafeteria as well as refuge on
nights when. the temperature drops.
below 20 degrees. On those nights, the
shelter sends people to several local
churches that provide emergency

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