Organizations Band Together to Help Homeless in Jackson
For a few years now, I’ve been a part of a collection of small groups throughout the community that look to engage any social issues that they hear of in Jackson. The funny thing about groups like these, is that they don’t work unless they actually pay attention to what’s going on in their surroundings.
A few months back, a friend of mine who was involved in one of these groups told me about a small organization she had met in Jackson called HALO (Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization). Having considered myself as someone who tried to stay aware of the homeless issue in Jackson, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of this group before this moment. And then, after meeting and talking with this organization, I was even more surprised to find that there was a lot about the homeless in Jackson that I knew nothing about.
It seemed that much of my awareness extended to the organizations that perhaps many of us are familiar with—places like the Interfaith Shelter, the Aware Shelter, House of New Beginnings, and the local food pantries. It’s places like these where some of the most powerful displays of love are shown in Jackson.
But if we were to stay conscious of the fact that there are plenty of homeless in Jackson and that they cannot all fit into these shelters at one time, perhaps we would start to realize that we pass by such people all the time. If we took this knowledge into account, perhaps we would have noticed that many of the homeless in Jackson had taken up residence in a fairly large camp that they had built in our own backyard. Yet many of us (including myself) have been close by it countless times and yet never even realized it existed.
Ben Puhr: The largest camp to date that we know of (there’s almost 100 people back there) has been there for almost 10 years. It’s a very fascinating place. They had a chow hall set up and an infirmary. There’s family living areas, senior living areas. They had electricity taken from the poles and water piped in with stuff that they just collected.
Last fall, a couple teenage boys thought it’d be cool to go back there and beat up a couple 60-year-old ladies—busted ribs, knocked teeth out—broke a lot of their shelters and belongings. Shortly after that, an anonymous donor came in and housed all of the women and children through March and not too long after that the men disbanded the camp. Like I said, that camp had been there for almost 10 years.
Kim Crabtree: Tell me they caught the kids?
Shonnie Albert: Well the thing is, they couldn’t really call the police because the police don’t want to come to the camp.
Ben Puhr: They were trespassing. And see, that camp had kids. If they call the cops, the cops are going to call DHS, and DHS is going to take their kids, so it’s a tough situation.
Shonnie Albert: And a lot of times too with the homeless, you’ll find that they may have warrants out for something stupid—a loitering ticket that they can’t afford to pay. Well, they were loitering because they were trying to get warm, so there’s a lot of issues that come into that.
Shelley Lynn: There is a difference between panhandling and homeless. Homeless people stay out of sight. They don’t want to be bothered, they don’t trust people.
Jennifer Burk: They’re totally under the radar. That’s why we don’t know there’s 300-500 of them here.
Shonnie Albert: “There’s no homeless people in Jackson,” we hear that all the time.
Kenzie Everett: We found this woman walking who had really long, pretty hair and we asked her why she always had it up and had never shown anybody. She said she “didn’t want the males to notice how attractive she is,” and so she kept it up so that they wouldn’t try to attack her.
Shelley Lynn: She’s been homeless for a long time and she had been violated.
Ben Puhr: Multiple times.
Shelley Lynn: She’s terrified to look attractive, because she’s been abused so many times being homeless.
Kenzie Everett: You go and see someone who just needs a pair of socks or some toilet paper and you’re just like, “Wow, I should be really thankful for everything I have.” And then you talk to your friends and they’re worried about their nail polish chipping off and what they’re doing tonight and all this stuff and I’m just like, “You don’t understand. You should come with me and see what it’s actually like to have a difficult life.” It’s really touching to talk to people that have nothing. I’m alone and in an apartment and I have more than anyone we’ve ever helped.
Ben Puhr: By a long shot. Most people have what they can carry in their backpack and their pants pockets.
Jamin Bradley: What is it that you guys would like to accomplish through your upcoming event, Health, Hygiene and Hope?
Kim Crabtree: We’d like to provide a warm meal, dental hygiene, care supplies, clothing, grooming, and haircuts.
Shonnie Albert: It’s a day of hope and health. This event is trying to provide a service that the homeless don’t normally get. Most of these people aren’t going to have a chance to this if it wasn’t for something like Smiles on Wheels.
Kim Crabtree: Smiles on Wheels is a non-profit. We travel to schools and provide dental services, free to the kids. We also have a clinic at the health department on Lansing Ave and there we mainly see adults. We have a volunteer dentist who comes in and provides restorative work: fillings, extractions, that type of thing.
Ben Puhr: And we [Halo] just started as a small group of friends. We primarily focus on the unsheltered homeless, but we do help anyone who’s homeless and some that are not—anyone in need. We provide food, temporary shelter, clothing, and we started in November.
[At Health, Hygiene and Hope] we hope to not only provide some needs that they need physically, but also to give them a mental lift with the cosmetic stuff—like haircuts—give them a little boost of confidence and show them that someone does care about them. That little bit goes a long way.
Shonnie Albert: You don’t have to be rich. Even the smallest type of help, whether it’s time, money, or just even caring—acknowledging these people and letting them know that we see you and we understand. That type of stuff there can make a big difference.
The First Congregational Church
120 N Jackson St
Wednesday, August 14th
Educational services, counseling, health screenings, dental screenings, dental care, showers, haircuts and grooming, nails, hot lunch.
Hairdressers, nurses, general volunteers
Backpacks, underwear (especially female), socks, t-shirts, bug spray, diapers, feminine products, bus vouchers, two man tents, canned food with lids and tabs, food coupons, hand sanitizer, eating utensils, sun screen, ziplock bags, water.
WHERE TO DROP-OFF DONATIONS:
Monday through Thursday, 8:30a-6:00p
453 Marshall Street, Brooklyn, MI 49230
Thursday and Friday, 9:00a-4:00p
1715 Lansing Ave, Rm 261, Jackson, MI 49202
MWF 9:00a-6:00pm, T&TH 8:00a-12:00p
2301 Wildwood, Suite B, Jackson, MI 49202
Tuesday and Thursday, 5:00p-6:30p
729 W Michigan Ave, Jackson, MI 49201
124 N. Mechanic Street, Jackson, Michigan 49201
A note from the author
I sat down in a room full of volunteers, set my recorder on the table and chatted with them for a good 30 minutes. Having just met many of these people, I did my best to distinguish who was talking when transcribing the recording later, but there were some spots where it was a little difficult to tell. It is possible that I did attribute speeches to the wrong people, but I have done the best I could given the circumstances.