Special Report: Seeking Shelter

Homelessness in Northern Michigan knows no season.

People end up without a place to call home for a lot of different reasons and a lot of times it includes multiple complicated issues.

The Goodwill Street Outreach program helped 427 people struggling with homelessness in Northern Michigan in the last year.

They work closely with five counties including Antrim, Benzie, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Grand Traverse Counties. In Antrim County, they helped 13 people, 16 in Benzie County, and in Grand Traverse County, 243 people, that’s more than half of the people that were served. However, it’s a problem that’s not going away.

“Street outreach is a program where we reach out to people experiencing homelessness and bring resources to them,” said Ryan Hannon. Ryan is the Street Outreach coordinator. He says out of the 427 people that was served in the past year, 76 people found long term housing solutions.

The program provides emergency assistant, emotional support, and crisis intervention.

There is also the Youth Street Outreach program where two outreach workers solely focus on people experiencing homelessness ages 14-24. Both teams work 5 days a week and work on-call during the evenings and on weekends.

“I think one person who is young or any age experiencing homelessness is too many,” said Ryan.

For Ryan and his team of six finding people experiencing homelessness means going beyond the streets. Regan Blissett and photojournalist Stephanie Adkins followed along with Ryan as he traveled into the woods of Traverse City.

The Street Outreach team locates people or checks up on those who need their help.

Ryan has helped more than 1,000 people over his 12 years with Street Outreach.

He started because homelessness is an experience that he knows all too well.

“I experienced homelessness for a time in my life as a teenager. There was some people in my life that really helped me out. The thought of someone sleeping outside, it really bothers me, so I do what I can to help people get connected,” said Ryan.

When people like Ryan do connect with someone experiencing homelessness, they provide them with information on the Goodwill Inn, an emergency transitional shelter with more than 120 beds and 11 family rooms.

The Goodwill Inn also provides food for guests from Food Rescue, which collect soon-to-expire healthy food from grocers and distributes to 48 food pantries, shelters, and community meal sites.

During their stay, Goodwill and street outreach works to connect people with permanent housing like housing subsidies.

Donna Canfield experienced homeless for 20 years. She stayed at the Goodwill Inn where she says they helped her get back on her feet.

“I have been raised in foster care and institutions so it’s like I’ve continued it. I’ve been institutionalized all of these years. I feel safest at these places,” said Donna.

Ryan said, “One of the common themes I see amongst people I serve is significant trauma in their lives, either as a child or growing up.”

It takes years for people like Donna to overcome the many hardships that come with homelessness and that’s why part of the Street Outreach program also works to keep track of people who still call the woods “home”.

During a mid-April search, Ryan went looking for a man named Gary Harris who spent six months at the Goodwill Inn shelter.

He found him freezing in his tent that was covered with snow.

Guests can stay up to 90 days in the shelter, but in emergency cases sometimes longer. For Gary, he stayed for 6 months but because of the Goodwill Inn’s long waiting list, he timed out.

For Gary, that meant returning to his tent.

“I’m just homeless. No place to go, I have a couple of different disabilities where I can’t work,” said Gary.

Ryan found Gary with wet socks and holes in his shoes. He took Gary to the Goodwill Store because he had a voucher for new shoes.

They also took this opportunity to get Gary on a housing waiting list..

“It’s not fun being homeless,” said Gary.

His biggest challenge he says, is surviving another night.

With warm, new shoes, Gary had no choice but to return to his cold tent

He is just one of the many that Ryan and the Street Outreach team have dedicated their time and resources to help.

Something Ryan says, he’ll never stop doing.

“I keep doing this because homelessness is still there, no one should experience homelessness on our streets,” said Gary.

If you would like to help people like Gary, donating money helps keep Street Outreach going.

However, you can also help by donating and shopping at the Goodwill Store.

Contact Street Outreach:
Phone: 231-995-7721

Contact Goodwill Inn:

Phone: 231-922-4890

Click here, for community resources.