ESCANABA - A group of citizens, concerned about the lack of housing available for the city's homeless have spoken out on behalf of the needy. Their voice was heard by the Escanaba City Council, which voted to create a task force on the issue Thursday.
Prior to council's decision, comments were presented by members of the social action committee of the Unitarian Universalist Bay de Noc Fellowship, Delta County Coalition Against Homelessness, Lutheran Social Service Voices for Youth Program, and other concerned citizens.
According to Jim Rettig, a Unitarian Universalist member, the group is seeking to have multiple commercial areas in the city zoned for transitional housing for the homeless. The single location offered by the city has no vacant buildings.
By designating transitional housing areas in the city, individual needs can be addressed immediately rather than having to go through the zoning process each time, explained Rettig.
Currently, there are 41 beds available for transitional housing and emergency shelter in Delta County, noted Beth Graham, chair of the Delta County Coalition Against Homelessness.
"In 2011, there was a projected 1,260 homeless individuals in Delta County," Graham said. "We have people who are sleeping in their cars, in tents and sheds, in abandoned buildings or in trailers and campers with no heat, electricity or running water."
Graham views the task force as a great start for the community to address homelessness here.
"This is a community issue involving our friends, families and neighbors," she added. "It is going to take a community effort to help resolve homelessness."
Nisha Coolman, coordinator for the Delta County Coalition Against Homelessness, agreed, saying the issue is an emotional topic and there needs to be a community solution that benefits everyone.
"People have a very basic need for shelter and deserve shelter," Coolman said, asking for action on the issue in a timely manner.
Jim Gehling, a Unitarian Universalist member, spearheaded the group's efforts. He explained to council that by designating transitional housing, grants can then be sought for established programs.
Gehling also stressed the need to act as soon as possible because of the growing needs of the homeless. "It's essential we do this in a short period of time. It's cold out there and getting colder," he said.
Bobbie Stacey, member of both the social action committee and the coalition, said the task force will "open the door" for agencies to apply for government programs to rehabilitate vacant property into transitional housing with the goal of settling people in permanent housing.
Mary Busick, case manager at Voices for Youth, also commented on the need for coordinated funding to help the homeless. The shelter has four beds available to individuals 18-21 years of age.
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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, firstname.lastname@example.org