A local shelter program designed to keep people off the streets at night is seeing a spike in the number of people it serves, The Ticker has learned.
“This year, Safe Harbor is up almost 20 percent,” says Goodwill’s Street Outreach Coordinator Ryan Hannon. “We averaged about 45 people per night for the past month, and last January we averaged 35." The average is 31 people per night during the winter season.
Donations to the program have tapered off since the holidays, however. “During the holiday season, people are feeling more generous, but the need doesn’t end after the holidays," Hannon says.
Safe Harbor of Grand Traverse began in 2003 when the First Church of Nazarene in Traverse City opened its doors to provide meals to the homeless. Later that year, the church launched an overnight program that provided shelter to adults on the coldest nights of the year. By 2004, other churches were following suit.
Four years ago, Safe Harbor approached Goodwill Industries for assistance in training and organizing volunteers. Goodwill’s Street Outreach has become an integral part of the program that now includes more than 24 churches rotating overnight and meal services throughout the winter months.
It’s estimated that at any point in time there are 740 homeless individuals in the surrounding five-county area, according to statistics gathered during a PIT count (Point in Time) conducted in January 2011. These figures include people on the streets, in emergency shelters and those in transitional housing or being evicted. This year’s count, conducted Jan. 25, is expected to be even higher, Hannon says. The final numbers will be released in about a month.
While drug addiction and mental illness can lead to homelessness, Hannon says the majority of people on the street are there because of a series of unfortunate events, including illness or job loss.
“The economy is bad and that’s forcing people out of their homes,” he says.
The lack of affordable housing is another likely contributor, Hannon adds. “There are not enough (designated affordable housing) units, even if everyone had jobs to pay for them.”
Safe Harbor is often the last resort for many.
“There are some success stories where Safe Harbor has touched someone at a deep level and helped them gain sobriety and transition into a job and housing," says Nick Twomey, pastor of Bay Pointe Community Church, which participates with the program. But more importantly, he adds, people are treated with respect. “While we may not succeed in getting someone off the street, we’ve seen tremendous success in helping people go from feeling worthless to feeling safe and comfortable.”
There are several ways to help the operation. Monetary contributions can be made directly to Safe Harbor through The Presbyterian Church of Traverse City or Goodwill’s Street Outreach Program. Also, purchasing items on the Goodwill Street Outreach site wish list and buying from or donating items to the Goodwill Store on South Airport Road benefits programming.
For more information on Safe Harbor, visit www.gtsafeharbor.org.