Tracking accurate statistics on homelessness in area

The Continuum of Care for Houghton, Keweenaw and Baraga Counties’ uses the Project Homeless initiative as a spark for the conversation of what it means to be homeless.

The event was used to do a headcount and accurately see who is living on the streets.

COC also does a count in June or July.

Brian Foreman of the Child and Family Services of the Upper Peninsula said, “that number tends to be higher because then we can go and see the tents, people living in campers, etc.”

Last year, the number of people that was recorded was 164. Foreman said the number of those actually living on the streets is less than that. He predicts a quarter of them are actually on the street.

This causes a problem when trying to help because of the state’s definition of a person being “literally homeless,” restricts who the COC can help.

“A lot of our programs look at literally homeless so that’s why we need these numbers,” said Foreman. They also need the numbers for when applying for grants.

Being literally homeless can mean you’re sleeping in your car, in a shelter or some other type of inhabitable place. Unfortunately, you can’t be couch surfing or staying with a friend or family.

“If you’re just sleeping on a friends couch, or doubled up with another family, that doesn’t count,” said Foreman. “We do our best to help in those situations but the state is looking at who is literally homeless on the streets and in not habitable housing.”

Other struggles that Foreman believes heighten the number of people on the street is the lack of a permanent shelter in the area.

“Baraga County seems to have a fairly high rate and a lot of it may be tied to lack of housing, substance abuse or who knows,” said Foreman.

He mentioned Hope House, the rotating shelter that John Niemala is working to bring to Baraga County. It’s meeting resistance from the community with the biggest reason for the push back being fear.

Foreman believes people are against having a permanent shelter because they think it will be a large number of people in one space. Many assume a high number of those people will have mental or substance abuse issues, but Foreman doesn’t think that is the case.

He believes the reason for homelessness in the Houghton and Hancock areas is different.

“Here, (in Houghton and Hancock) there’s typically not affordable housing,” said Foreman. “We’re a college town, so the rent tends to be a lot higher than you would normally see in a city of similar size that doesn’t have a university. I think that’s a downside.”

Foreman said his agency goes out to price check two-bedrooms in the area and they are close to $600 a month.

“When you’re making $9.25, an hour that’s almost all of your paycheck to pay rent,” said Foreman. “I think that’s the major contributing factor to our homelessness.”

Another factor he believes is pride. People do not want to admit that they are homeless.

“We’re all basically about two or three paychecks away from being homeless,” said Foreman. “So if we lose our job and do not have anything to sell, it wouldn’t take us long to become homeless ourselves.”