I recently went on a ‘Homeless in Flint’ tour. It was life changing. I’ve decided to tell the story using quotes from our tour guide. His name is Bill.
“Darn-it, there’s people living there! Right there! All along the riverbed”
According to Bill (Supervisor of Community Housing for Genesee Health System (GHS)), out of the 125,000 households that live in Flint, Michigan—26% live below the poverty line. While most of the 26% are households within actual homes, a very large handful are residents of what Bill calls “abandominums”, “the Michigan jungle”, or “tent city”… this very large handful…are homeless.
“When the police pick up the homeless people in Fenton, they’ll just drop them off, right here…in Flint”
Today, GHS interns went on a tour to visit the places and spaces where homeless residents seek refuge. Driving near what appeared to be a small dam near the Flint River Trail, we were invited to see the small dwelling spaces of many residents, directly above a concrete gorge. The blue tent in the far distance pin pointed the area where many families seek shelter. We then drove past shopping centers parking lots, churches, dilapidated houses and housing complexes, and undisturbed plots of land where trees and bushes provided provision. It is interesting to note that not all of the ‘homeless in Flint’ are actually ‘Flint’s homeless’. It is not uncommon to find out that some are individuals (who are actually from surrounding cities), were found and roused by the police, and then ‘dropped off’ in Flint.
“We can put people in housing, but we are we doing about SUSTAIN-ability. I hyphenated ‘ability’”
During our tour, Bill, a Flint resident by way of San Francisco, California, introduced us to a new term.
Housing wage [hou-zing weyj] (n): is the amount a full time (40 hours per week) worker must earn per hour in order to afford a two-bedroom unit at the area’s fair market rent. [Web definition]
Housing wage [hou-zing weyj] (n): the amount of money you need to make (but probably don’t) to live. [Bill’s definition]
For example… To live in San Francisco, California: You would need to make about…$31/HOUR.
For further example….To live in Flint, Michigan: You would need to make about…$9.45/HOUR.
And just to drive the point home… Most of the clients that Bill sees, make about $3.51/HOUR
“When you are working for an employer, you have to ask: am I proud of the things they do?!”
As an agency that offers day treatment facilities, collaborates with churches and soup kitchens, offers substance abuse treatment, ‘warming centers’ where individuals without homes can sleep safely and comfortably during cold winter nights, recovery housing, residential housing like “My Brother’s Keeper”, offers case managers to assist in obtaining and maintaining housing—I would attest that GHS is helping to narrow that gap, and address the issue from all ends.
“There are so many things…but where do you start?”
Bill and his staff, actively engage with their clients on and off site. For those who are unable to (for any reason) access the housing facilities provided by GHS, they can anticipate a visit from GHS staff. Purchasing sleeping bags, coats, socks and even meals are common activities that the staff does for their clients.
“that’s what this is all about folks”
We are talking about public health– we are talking about the health of the public.