TV6 Investigates Homelessness: Marquette City officials, police share community need

The City of Marquette is addressing the influx of unhoused individuals while trying to balance assistance and accountability.
Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 3:39 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - The City of Marquette is addressing the influx of unhoused individuals while trying to balance assistance and accountability.

Marquette City Manager Karen Kovacs says it has been tricky.

“We do have to figure out what the balance is, but we also know that we are stretched incredibly thin right now,” Kovacs said.

Data from Community Action Alger-Marquette shows that in 2019 116 households experienced homelessness in the two counties. This year, that data shows the number has risen by 54 households.

“I get emails from people who are here for the weekend or I have emails from parents that are dropping off newly enrolled NMU students that have some concern and then I have residents that are calling us because we have student-athletes that are using the bike path for training or anything like that and are having incidents where they’re being followed or harassed and how, how do we balance that,” Kovacs said.

According to that same data since the start of this year, there have been 170 households that have experienced homelessness between the two counties. Many of which are in the city of Marquette.

Marquette City Police Chief Ryan Grim says the amount of people changes how the department patrols to keep both housed and unhoused populations safe.

“We have been increasing our home or our foot patrol, our bike patrol and just trying to have officers be in the area and kind of be a strong presence and dealing with things as they come the best that we can,” Grim said. But Grim says it also means the department is stretched thin. “A lot of the homeless individuals are vulnerable, whether it’s mental illness or substance abuse and we have a lot of assaults and some sexual assaults that we deal with that population and it’s our job to try to protect everybody including them,” Grim said. “And it’s, it’s concerning. It feels like we’ve got a lot that we’re trying to keep an eye on.”

Grim says while there might be a stigma surrounding unhoused people, the portion of the population actually committing crimes is small.

He says the department sees the same group of offenders.

“The people we deal with criminally are a small portion of the homeless population, and a lot of times, unfortunately, that’s what the public is seeing and they’re seeing us out talking to people and dealing with different situations,” Grim said. “But really, if you look at the amount of people that we have in, I said it before, but the officers oftentimes deal with the same person over and over and over again.”

Grim says he’d like to see more service agencies have social workers available to go out on calls with police.

“A lot of times you’ll write a citation and then move them along, but then you’re going to deal with the same person over and over again. And that’s where that correspondence would be very helpful. If we could have some, some kind of mechanism in place, we can call for some help with maybe a social worker or somebody with some mental health training that can assist us,” Grim said.

Kovacs says the high number of unhoused people is not a city-specific problem.

“They are more visible here because they are here generally for some of these services,” Kovacs said. “So it looks like it’s a Marquette problem. But this is a countywide need or a countywide issue and it should be a countywide collaborative effort.”

Kovacs says the state should also be responsible for finding solutions.

“What do I want to see from the state? I would like to see maybe perhaps a little bit more known guidance or policies that I know these community organizations are receiving but perhaps maybe more out in the public as well on what efforts are being taken,” Kovacs said.

Kovacs says there is one thing we should all remember when we talk about homelessness.

“Homeless people are humans as well and we want everybody to come back and bounce back quickly and become members of our community,” Kovacs said. “So I think that we just need to keep that in mind.”

Both stress the importance of working together to come up with long-term solutions to help the unhoused community find a place to call home.

You can hear what Marquette service organizations have to say here.