TV6 Investigates Homelessness: Service organizations address increase in unhoused

Janzen House Director Brent Clark said the City of Marquette’s unhoused population is growing at a rate service organizations are struggling to keep up with.
Published: Aug. 28, 2023 at 6:06 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE COUNTY, Mich. (WLUC) - Marquette community service organizations are dealing with an increase in unhoused individuals.

“As we look towards the fall and towards the winter, I am concerned that we’re going to continue to see way more people experiencing homelessness than we have available shelter beds,” Room at the Inn Executive Director Chelsie Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said this summer, the need is particularly high.

“Right now, I have 28 beds total and we are at 27 individuals. I have one open female spot and my shelter as of this morning. So, and for the summer, it’s my understanding that, that number is pretty high.”

Where are these people coming from? Wilkinson says they are from here in the Upper Peninsula.

“Of the over 300 unduplicated individuals that Room at the Inn has served since 2021, I would say 75 and 80% of those folks are from Marquette or Alger County,” Wilkinson said. “So, most of the people that we’re seeing are originally from the Central U.P.”

Janzen House Director Brent Clark said the City of Marquette’s unhoused population is growing at a rate that service organizations are struggling to keep up with.

“In the last three years, we have acquired about 25 people beyond the resources that we usually use to take care of people,” Clark said. “Now, there are organizations that are addressing that, but they would also need some kind of permanent funding. That will be citizens requesting of their government, probably an actual city and county response.”

Clark said the contributing factors of homelessness differ from person to person.

“It would be easy to think that homelessness itself is a moral failure,” Clark said. “But it often is just a series of small events. It can be, a relationship ends, can be the loss of a job. It can be that your lease ends it can be that the landlord flipped your apartment and is going to remove you so that they can charge a lot more money.”

Superior Connections is one of the newer service organizations to begin serving unhoused people in Marquette. Director Ryan Redmond said the organization tries to tailor its help based on the life experiences of staff.

“Over 51% of our board and employees all have lived experience and we believe that recovery is possible for everyone. Because of that lived experience, we are able to jump in the trenches and help navigate through these systems that are so difficult,” Redmond said.

Redmond said Superior Connections is looking to expand its collaborations in the community. Redmond would not share specifics but until then, he says there are a couple of things the state could do to help assist.

“We really need them to re-evaluate restrictive policies that prohibit people from accessing housing, such as efficient assistance, legal histories, background restrictions, zoning barriers, really look at the system and how individuals access services and programs,” Redmond said.

Clark said he is confident the service organizations Marquette has will be able to tackle the needs unhoused individuals are facing.

“You could get cynical about homelessness in general. There’s lots of national news stories. You can see pictures of whole parks filled with individuals needing housing, but in Marquette, we’ve always had a pretty good response. We need to do certain things a little bit better, but the core services are here. We just need to build a little more on top of them,” Clark said.

All three organizations say people can help make a difference in homelessness by donating time and money or by having conversations with their lawmakers.