COLUMN: We need to talk about homelessness and poverty more


While it’s understandable that time and money is something many college students can’t give, a conversation is free.

The homeless population is large in Isabella County. With 510 homeless people in Isabella County during 2017, there seems to be many people lost with their lives, not sure where they’re going next.

Yet, there seems to be a lack of conversation about the issue. 

Many students here at Central Michigan University don’t leave the campus very often, and if they do, they usually stay on Mission Street and in the downtown area. Homelessness is not something they see. If the topic is brought up, some people might say, “What can I do about it? I have barely enough money and time to make it through college. I don’t have room in my life to donate money or volunteer somewhere I could help.”

Here’s the thing: those are very legitimate points. I completely understand that even though college students are better off than those who don’t have a home, students have limitations on what they can do to help. If I were to judge people for thinking this way, I would be a hypocrite. I’ve thought this many times driving past a man on the side of the road with a sign asking for help.

There are smaller actions you can take that may create a large impact. And it all revolves around one thing: talking.

Sometimes creating a dialogue can help spread the word about an issue. I was surprised to learn when I began working on my article about homelessness and poverty about how bad these problems are in this county. According to a United Way study called "Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed," or ALICE, 50 percent of people in Isabella County are in some form of poverty.

I had never heard anyone talk about this before I started reporting on it. It baffles me that no one would talk about living in a county with one of the highest poverty levels in the state. Yet, in a weird way it makes sense.

Ryan Griffus, the Executive Director at the Isabella County Restoration House, said poverty and homelessness in a rural place like Isabella County tends to be more hidden as opposed to in a larger city. He said homeless people in rural areas tend to stay in places like the woods, in cars and barns. Because of this, other residents don’t see them, thus no one talks about it.

That's precisely why these important issues should be discussed. How can things get better if no one is talking about homelessness and poverty?

Some people may be thinking, “How can I help someone who is homeless directly?” Here’s where talking comes into play again. 

While it might seem like people who are homeless are inapproachable, they are people just like you and me. They have favorite bands, movies, video games, dreams and aspirations. This becomes abundantly clear when you talk to them.

I spoke with a family of six during their first night with the shelter and the dad had a lot to say about their experience, and it taught me a lot about the toll homelessness takes on families. 

Just talking to people in these situations is a simple way of making them feel better and many times, they will be perfectly open to share their stories. When I went to an overnight homeless shelter, I was surprised to hear how open these people were with sharing their stories. While it’s not always advised to talk about their stories since they could be quite traumatic, even just talking about interests will give them something bright in a dark situation.

Everyone I spoke to at the shelter expressed gratitude that I talked to them. So my suggestion is the next time you see a homeless person on the streets or in a shelter, perhaps drop in for a conversation. It will make all the difference.