Local homeless shelter planners learn from Marquette system

Vanessa Dietz/Daily Mining Gazette Room at the Inn Executive Director Doug Russell told a fluctuating audience Friday at the Jutila Center how Marquette churches have banded together to help homeless residents find the help they need.

HANCOCK — About 50 people interested in setting up services for homeless people in the Copper Country attended a meeting Friday at the Jutila Center in Hancock.

“This was a real good turnout with the people in our community,” said John Niemela who organized the meeting to learn how to deal with homelessness from a successful Marquette program.

Speaking at the event, Room at the Inn Executive Director Doug Russell described the Marquette organization as an interfaith coalition of churches sharing the mission to provide support and shelter for the homeless in the Marquette area.

“There’s all sorts of ways to become homeless,” Russell explained about the all too common problem. “What happens when you do? Where do you go?” Without a shelter, “You’re out of luck. The bottom line is everyone deserves a place to stay.”

Russell said times have changed in the 10 years since the Marquette shelter started. While shelters used to house mostly alcoholic men, they now serve a much younger and more challenging coed population, often suffering from mental illness and illegal drug use.

“Is it all positive?” Russell asked. “It’s not. People work the system every day. They’re survivors.”

There is a definite need locally to reach out to marginalized neighbors.

Russell said 187 people were homeless in the Copper Country in 2015. Of them, 77 were 17 years old and under.

Room at the Inn is a rotating shelter, moving weekly to one of twelve different hosting churches. The underlying goal of Room at the Inn is to provide an opportunity for guests to focus on life transitions without the worry of finding food and shelter.