There are 151 known homeless individuals in Isabella County, according to data revealed by Central Michigan University sociology, anthropology and social work professor J. Douglas Penn.
However, Coordinator for Continuum of Care Mary Schneider said in her line of work, she has seen far more.
“We are amazed. It feels like they are coming out of the woodwork,” Schneider said. “I’ve helped 100 families; there are five, six, seven, or eight people in a family. I’ve seen 250 homeless individuals in the last eight months in Isabella County, and that’s not even all of them.”
Over 170 students attended Wednesday afternoon’s Soup and Substance event in the Bovee University Center Rotunda, which focused on homelessness in honor of MLK week.
The event, sponsored by the Office of Diversity Education and Multicultural Academic Student Services at CMU, featured a panel of Mid-Michigan Community Action Agency employees Audrey Daniels, Penn and Schneider.
Penn, who presented the findings of his Social Theory 301 class at the event, said he was astounded by the amount of information his students gave him to present about Isabella County homelessness.
“Just their academic prowess, I was surprised by the amount they did. They went above and beyond what was expected from them,” Penn said.
Native American Programs Administrative Secretary Sarah Avery said attendance was higher than expected for the event.
“All Soups and Substances are very unique,” Avery said. “They all feature different crowds, different speakers, different atmospheres, but we see our biggest groups on programs affiliated with another event like MLK week. We are very pleased with the number that has shown up today.”
A wide variety of individuals were present in the audience, including those from religious organizations, faculty and students. Member of the Isabella County Continuum of Care and Faculty Center for Innovative Teaching Service-Learning Coordinator Travus Burton said the presence of so many different groups of people interested in homelessness was a positive sign.
“There’s a real need to unite resources in the county regarding this issue,” Burton said. “Faith-based, social work organizations, students from CMU, community organizations, we need to collectively work towards solving this issue.”
Burton found the presentations on homelessness especially meaningful.
“It’s not an issue that most of us are incredibly distanced from,” he said. “We’re all only a few paychecks from being homeless, and there’s a real need for us to group together and build a homeless shelter in this community.”
Graduate students Elsken Steenblik of Pewamo and Laura Baslock of Bad Axe have been to several Soup and Substance events throughout the year.
“We like going to these,” Steenblik said. “It’s just a way to get information that effects your community … I definitely wasn’t as aware of homelessness in Isabella County before this (event).”