Helping the Homeless Out of the Cold

By: Rachel Thomas Email
By: Rachel Thomas Email

To be out on the streets in the snow is a cold reality for thousands in the greater Lansing area.

"Lots of uncertainty. Not knowing where you're going to go, what you're going to do, or how you're going to survive," described 28-year-old Joshua Spoors of his experience being homeless.

Joshua Spoors has been homeless for 3 months and is not alone facing the winter without a place to call home. There are almost 4 thousand homeless people in Lansing, and less than 300 shelter beds to house them.

" You look at that number. It's about 3,900 people. So when we say that we have 255 shelter beds, Obviously we recognize there is a gap that exists," said Dr. Joan Jackson Johnson, director of Human Resources and Community Services of the City of Lansing.

Some individuals try to find their own ways to escape the cold. Last month two homeless people died when their camp in the woods caught fire in Lansing Township. Now, Lansing city officials are trying to prevent similar accidents. They have revised their "Cold Weather Plan" to be more cost effective. In 2008, the City of Lansing spent about $200,000 putting homeless people in motel rooms when temeratures got too low. Now, the city's community services department is working with shelters to fill every bed before turning to motels.

"What we did is tweek the system. Before anyone is placed in a motel, we know there is not a shelter bed available," said Johnson.

"We get calls from different shelters overnight, saying, 'We have a man here and we haven't got any room. Can you take him?' and I say, 'Yes we can,'" said night director Mike Hayes of the City Rescue Mission of Lansing.

Hayes says the 60 beds at the City Rescue Mission are nearly full every night. But staff anticipates more will come off the streets this winter.

"The colder it gets the more we have," said Hayes.

The revised "Cold Weather Plan" will also take advantage of Federal FEMA funds when temperatures reach below zero. In a state of emergency, FEMA will reimburse the city for extra shelters set up.


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