Helping the homeless: Coalition discusses ways to provide service

The Copper Country Homeless Prevention Coalition discussed possible solutions to the challenge of reaching those that need services at the meeting on Thursday.

The members enjoyed lunch while talking about agencies prior efforts to seek those who are homeless or in need of support, to no avail.

When speaking of the Project Homeless Connect Initiative that was funded a couple of weeks ago, Mary Niemela of Barbara Kettle Gundlach Shelter Home said, “It’s not meant to be negative. There’s just no good way to approach it to get people to come who want to identify as homeless.”

During that day, nobody showed up to receive services or obtain goodie bags. She said this was a regular occurrence and that they’ve thrown multiple events to show people the services that are available to them, from providing transportation and offering food, but they still don’t show up.

“We’re looking at a population who might not want to identify as being at risk,” said Niemela. Some reasons indicated were pride and how people might feel shameful, especially in the small, rural area.

She said she’d love to see what a Project Homeless Connect Initiative in other communities looks like and what those organizations do to be successful.

The coalition also mentioned the how the hotel vouchers that are given to people in need of shelter in the area and how to help those become more useful.

Paul Mitchell, a former shelter director, has been doing research on homeless in the area. Throughout his six weeks here he has driven around the Hancock and Houghton areas doing head counts of those who appear to be homeless. He does this three times a week starting at 1 a.m.

This was Mitchell’s first meeting and he offered suggestions on ways to create better outcomes for the coalition.

He said members shouldn’t ask why people aren’t coming to them or identifying themselves as homeless, but should be creating the dynamic to make that easier for them.  

“We’re asking the wrong question. It’s the relationship that matters.” He said reaching out and creating that relationship creates a space for those who need help to become vulnerable.

“If your relationship is predicated on them coming to you, through your door, it’s likely not to happen,” Mitchell said. He stressed the importance of building the dialogue, connecting with the people and going out to “meet them where they’re at.”

The group also discussed having better communication as a whole, as well as communicating with the Houghton police department when they pass out hotel vouchers.

There was a suggestion to have volunteers and staff on call and available to meet the person who is receiving the voucher at the time it is given.

The purpose would be to create the sense of urgency and offer the resources they will need once the voucher expires.

“The goal is for us to help walk alongside them, to help move them through that. If we’re committed to only having people pick themselves up by their own bootstraps this won’t happen, but if we recognize that people in need that support it can make a dramatic change,” said Mitchell.

The members hope to continue the discussion but the most important thing is action.