Homelessness summit looks at UP increase

A regional summit held in Marquette last week underscored what a lot of people already knew: Chronic homelessness is not only on the rise nationally but in all 15 Upper Peninsula counties as well.

And here’s something else. According to Kayla West, special project coordinator for Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development agency, the chronic homeless are currently often kept in what she termed “two of our most expensive places,” which are hospital emergency rooms and local jails.

“So what can we do?” she asked, for a Mining Journal story on the matter. “We have people who need more support than we can currently give with a rotating shelter. So why not find out what other folks around the country are doing who have been dealing with this longer?”

Summit attendees focused on what is known as the Housing First option, which incorporates housing stability, trauma-informed, intensive support services and person-centered care across several sectors: health care, law enforcement, employment, mental health, substance abuse and housing.

It’s well known that many chronically homeless individuals are beset with a combination of issues, such as addiction, mental health problems and chronic medical diseases. Elissa Kent, program director for Great Lakes Recovery Center adult residential services, who spoke at the event and was quoted in the Journal story, noted how hard it is for her clients to think about sobriety or self-improvement when their basic needs are not being met.

“As a treatment provider, it can be challenging to get people to work on skills and developing self-esteem when their needs aren’t being met,” Kent said. “A model for permanent, public housing will meet a need for these people.”

The summit was informational and advisory in nature and we think entirely appropriate, given the scope of the challenge.

We hope Lansing decision makers are paying attention and are approachable about what might come next.