Event focuses on plight of homeless

ESCANABA – The third annual Sleep-Out Challenge to raise funds for housing assistance and homelessness awareness in Delta County will soon be underway.

This year’s event takes place Nov. 22 from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. at Elmer’s County Market.

Registration for the event is from 9 to 10 p.m., though participants can also register beforehand, according to Delta County Coalition Against Homelessness Coordinator Nisha Coolman.

The Sleep-Out Challenge works the same way as in the past where individuals are nominated or volunteer to sleep outside for one night. Those who sleep outside try to raise money by the hour or for the entire event through collecting pledges.

Participants can also sleep inside their car, a box, or in a tent.

This year Escanaba High School’s Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program is hoping to get involved, and Coolman said it is nice to have student participation.

All funds raised go toward supporting coordinated efforts of agencies in Delta County on their mission to end homelessness.

“The Coalition is a group of area agencies that all work together to end homelessness, whether it be Voices for Youth or Tri-County Safe Harbor, the Salvation Army, Community Action, and others,” said Coolman, noting the Coalition, as a group, decides where funding goes.

Coolman hopes to raise $10,000 – her goal for this year’s event. She noted there is a definite need for housing services here in Delta County.

From October 2012 to 2013, there were 673 adults and 278 children requiring housing case management services, utility assistance, rent, security, client-landlord mediations, and emergency shelter services in Delta County, for a total of 951 served in total.

In that same time frame, approximately $65,000 was spent on housing-specific payments and more than $45,000 was spent on emergency shelter costs.

“We’re trying to end homelessness but the way jobs are declining, even though statistics show that the unemployment rate is slowly going down, this doesn’t include the jobless rate,” she said.

This is since the unemployment rate includes only those eligible for and receiving unemployment benefits; the jobless rate includes those ages 18 to 64 who, although able to work, are not employed.

According to Coolman, underemployment is also a huge issue that may factor into the homeless rate.

“People work part-time, or even full-time, and the money they make is still not adequate for self sustainability,” she said. “There is a lot of that.”

Coolman highlighted the new Hope at the Inn program, scheduled to begin Dec. 1. Hope at the Inn is a rotating emergency shelter, similar to a program in Marquette where the shelter moves to a different church on a weekly basis.

For those interested in participating, donating, or nominating someone for the Sleep-Out Challenge, contact Coolman at 906-281-3440 or by email at deltacountycoc@gmail.com.