Left Behind: 'Cardboard Prophets' works to curb homelessness

Published: Nov. 25, 2019 at 11:30 AM EST
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As many head to the table this week for Thanksgiving, some do not have that luxury. One group in mid-Michigan is working to get people off the streets and into permanent housing.

"We need to try and find you something," Mike Karl says to a woman sitting outside a Lansing pet store with her dog in the cold. In a Facebook live video, he tries to reassure her she will no longer be homeless.

Less than 24 hours later, Caitlin Sandy traded the concrete outside that store for the covers in a hotel room for her, and dog "Bo."

It's just one of the thousands of stories that Karl has to tell as leader of the non-profit "Cardboard Prophets."

He took News 10's Barrett Tryon on a tour through downtown Lansing on a cold November morning, showing places that homeless tend to hang out during Michigan's harsh winter months.

"This is somebody's bedroom, somebody's living room, somebody's kitchen" as Karl points to different spots underneath a bridge. Scattered around are remnants of people calling it home, from bikes, to a small lunch box, and several blankets.

Before Karl begins his weekly walk around the Capital City, you'll find him on Tuesday mornings at Reutter Park with what he affectionally calls the "Homeless Help Desk." Tables piled with warm clothes, and stocked with ready-to-go food completely run by volunteers, like Karen Fox.

"I feel like Ellen," Fox said. "We can't get stuff here fast enough with our small vehicles. We're continuing to do it as long as we can."

Within minutes of being set-up, it becomes a homeless mecca. People seemingly coming out of nowhere to find a break from the cold wind.

Other volunteers at the desk know the struggle more than most.

"I'm from Chicago," Renell Mason said. "I was in and out of homelessness for 20 years."

Mason now spends his Tuesdays giving back after finding housing and being off the streets for more than three years. A struggle he wants others to know it doesn't have to be this way.

"You are here for a purpose. Not for a reason, here for a purpose," he said. "That purpose is to have a foundation on life about yourself. When you take yourself, out of self, and give back, good things come."

It turns out, many who call themselves homeless in the greater Lansing area have a similar story to Mason's. They are outsiders who came here -- looking for hope.

That hope, however, also creates a different struggle.

"It's hard to continue to shelter people when there's overcrowding coming from other cities," said Karl. Partly because Lansing has more homeless resources available than other cities in the state.

The most recent state data shows more than 63,000 people are homeless in Michigan. The average age is just seven years old.

Those sobering statistics are exactly why Karl says he does what he does, especially since he was once homeless himself. He said it feels like a way to give back.

With his grocery cart in tow, he runs into numerous people downtown, who recognize him for his compassion with a helping hand. Karl stops and talks to multiple people to check on their current situations, hands out gift cards to Wendy's, and offers up socks and long johns to help keep people warm.

It's easy to see what he's doing is making a difference to the people who call on him when life didn't go quite as they planned.

"There's not a whole lot of good news. But when you walk the streets, and you can see and help people, it's all the good news you need," Karl said.

That good news seems to be contagious. On Sunday, Sandy was placed into new housing. She began a new job, with her dog, on Monday. Over the next few months, News 10 will continue to follow her, and her progress, and bring updates.

If you'd like to donate time, money, clothing, or have general questions, you can visit Cardboard Prophets

or visit their


To continue to follow along as Barrett tackles homelessness in mid-Michigan,


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