Marquette officials, businesses concerned about homelessness
By RANDY CROUCH
Journal Staff Writer
MARQUETTE — Owners and leaders from several downtown Marquette businesses attended a meeting Thursday morning to discuss homelessness in Marquette.
Business leaders were joined by Marquette City Manager Karen Kovacs, Marquette City Police Department Chief Ryan Grim and Marquette Downtown Development Authority business outreach and promotions director Michael Bradford to discuss the homelessness issue in the city of Marquette.
The meeting was held at the Marquette Commons and was hosted by the DDA.
Grim, Kovacs and Bradford took questions and concerns from business owners who expressed the belief that homelessness is making Marquette unsafe.
“Over half of this population is folks that, you know, have fallen on hard times. There is also a mental health component in there that we think is a stronger cause of this issue,” Kovacs said. “We all know that in the Upper Peninsula there is a major lack of resources for mental health services, and that includes addiction services.”
One of the topics that was touched upon was the wider societal issues that cause homelessness.
“We had several reports or studies that have been done about homelessness and there is this link between homelessness and the housing shortage,” Kovacs said. “When we talk about what the homeless individuals need, surely housing is one of those but there’s also some other things that need to happen along the way.”
Grim heard concerns from some business owners, who have said that the issue has caused their customers and employees to feel uncomfortable. Grim says that the department has increased patrols.
“It’s at the point where it’s unmanageable,” Grim said. “We know what’s going on, too. Shooting up in front of people, open intox, fights, that kind of stuff. From our perspective, we’ve ramped up patrols. With ‘police reform’ over the last couple years, we used to be able to just throw them in jail, that would kind of fix the problem for the evening. To the point now, they (Marquette jail) won’t take them unless it’s a felony.”
Grim says that while there are several problems, the majority of unhoused individuals in the area do not cause problems.
“It’s a very small population. There’s 50 or 60. We only deal with a handful of them,” Grim said. “Many of the people that we are dealing with are not from the area.”
Some of the business owners blamed marijuana dispensaries in downtown Marquette and the new Marquette Social District for creating a situation that encourages substance abuse in the city. Others spoke about taking matters into their own hands, including mentions of carrying guns with them.
Other business representatives said it would be better to find a safer solution to the problem.
“We don’t need a town full of vigilantes running around,” said Mary Moe of the Marquette Food Co-op.
While many attendees at the meeting spoke about their displeasure with the city’s handling of the issue, Kovacs noted that many of the area’s shelters, like the Room at the Inn, are doing the best they can with the resources they have.
“We (the city of Marquette) really do have a lot of good relationships with those organizations. We work well with the Room at the Inn,” Kovacs said. “They are very proactive in letting us know things that are going on.”
Marquette’s homelessness issue will continue to be a hotly debated topic in the area, and while no concrete solutions were decided upon at the meeting, several local business owners took it upon themselves to share information with each other to continue discussions.
Randy Crouch can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 542. His email address is email@example.com