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Crisis tackled

Alger-Marquette Local Planning Body focuses on homelessness

Idaho-based author Justin Wilder Doering visited Marquette this week for a presentation and signing of his book “Fifty Sandwiches,” which highlights the lives of the homeless population across America and “Humanizes the Homeless.” This week is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Peter White Public Library)

MARQUETTE — Over 560,000 people in the United States experienced homelessness at some point in 2019, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. That’s 17 out of every 10,000 people in the country.

In Michigan, over 8,500 people experienced homelessness on any given day in that same year, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. Over 1,000 of those cases came from family households, while nearly 600 were veterans and nearly 500 were unaccompanied young adults in the 18 to 24 age range. Some 950 individuals in the state experienced chronic homelessness, which is defined by the NAEH as a person who has experienced homelessness for one year or more while struggling with mental illness, substance use or a disability.

Nov. 15-22 is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in the U.S. and the Alger-Marquette Local Planning Body has put together a series of events to tackle the issue of homelessness locally.

“It’s an important issue every year, but this year I know a lot of people who have been struggling,” said Kim Frost, Welcome Home case manager for Lutheran Social Services and Alger-Marquette Local Planning Body volunteer. “I think we’re all struggling, feeling the COVID fatigue, not wanting to wear these masks anymore and isolation. For people who are homeless, it’s so much worse.

“We’ve been getting a lot more calls from people who are struggling financially due to COVID and who have lost employment and housing. We’ve seen a spike in that. There’s also a lot of increased addiction happening across the country and probably across the world. Also specific to Marquette County, it’s hard for those people to get transportation right now. With MarqTran running limited routes, it’s difficult to get a ride anywhere.

“It’s already a hard situation and COVID has made it so much harder with isolation, fear and illness.”

The Alger-Marquette Local Planning Body is hoping to inspire and motivate the community through its series of events this week, which started with a visit from Idaho-based author Justin Wilder Doering on Sunday and Monday.

Doering penned the book “Fifty Sandwiches,” which is also a nonprofit organization that delves into the lives of homeless people across America. Before writing the book, Doering embarked on a 105-day journey across the country to interview the homeless population and share their stories. The goal of Fifty Sandwiches is to “Humanize the Homeless” and show that “there’s more to homelessness than simply being homeless,” according to its website.

Doering addressed the public at the Marquette Commons on Sunday before doing a book signing at Peter White Public Library on Monday.

The next event is slated for 7 tonight a virtual community discussion regarding the issue of homelessness. The forum will be held via Zoom and is being hosted by PWPL and the Alger-Marquette Local Planning Body.

The week will conclude with two awareness walks and a street outreach supply drive to benefit Superior Housing Solutions. The first walk takes place at 9 a.m. Saturday and will depart from the YMCA in Marquette, while the second will depart from the Bayshore Park Pavilion in Munising at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Everyone is welcome to participate in the walks titled “Walk a Mile in their Shoes.”

“People can just show up and participate,” Frost said. “We’ll be requiring masks even though we’re outside.”

The supply drive is seeking items such as sleeping bags, coats, boots, hats, gloves, hand warmers, soft drinks such as Vitamin Water or Gatorade, and light snacks such as granola bars. First Presbyterian Church, Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, SAIL, Goodwill, Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul and PWPL all have designated boxes where donated items can be dropped off through November.

Frost had many people and area businesses to thank in their efforts to put these events together and contribute to the cause.

“Rotary Club, Donckers, PWPL, Luke Noordyk, the Hampton Inn, Econo Foods and Huron Mountain Bakery all contributed to the events of the week,” she said. “It was a cooperative effort between several Rotary clubs in Marquette to have Doering come, as well as the Munising Public Library.

“Homelessness Awareness Week is a project of the Alger-Marquette Local Planning Body and aims to work with the homelessness in our community. We’re not a paid staff, it’s a group of us who forms that body. We’re the ones who encourage people to get involved, be aware and do their part.”

Frost also said they’re inspired by Doering’s story and hope to one day start up a similar project in collaboration with Northern Michigan University and area high schools, with students telling the stories of the local homeless population.

“It could be any of us, it really could,” she said. “We need to raise awareness and I think that we have a responsibility to help each other and to be there for each other.”

For more information on Doering’s “Fifty Sandwiches” initiative, visit www.fiftysandwiches.com. For the Zoom link to tonight’s community discussion, visit Peter White Public Library on Facebook.

For info on any of this week’s events, contact Frost at 906-458-1382.

Ryan Spitza can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal.net.

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