HOMELESS ADVOCATES HAVE been talking about it for the last few years–the need for a permanent shelter for the homeless in Marquette.
The questions have remained, though: Where to locate it? And how to pay for it?
Nick Emmendorfer, the executive director of Room at the Inn, says he and his board may have come up with an answer.
“We’re currently exploring the feasibility of using the building that we own as the location of a permanent emergency housing shelter in Marquette,” says Emmendorfer.
The building they own is the Warming Center on Washington Street. The first floor of the building is used for meals, showers, counseling, and other services for the homeless. The second floor is currently a three bedroom rental apartment–that’s the floor that Room at the Inn is hoping to convert to a permanent shelter for the homeless.
Emmendorfer says he and his board are currently engaged in preliminary discussions with city officials about the plans, and are hoping to proceed with them early next year.
A few obstacles lie in their path, though. First, finding the money to convert a three bedroom apartment to quarters for a larger population. Second, securing the necessary permits from the city. And third, gathering community support for the idea of a permanent shelter.
The location makes sense because the homeless–a steady population of about 25–already congregate there for several hours every day. This would centralize all the homeless services in one place. Trying to buy another building in another location–on either Washington or Third Streets, which have approved zoning for a homeless shelter–would be costly and would likely arouse opposition from neighboring merchants.
Room at the Inn and the Warming Center are staffed mostly by volunteers.
But you might wonder, why not just continue with the current Room at the Inn model which has seven churches putting the homeless up on a weekly rotating basis?
“For fourteen years, we’ve been depending on the churches to help us,” Emmendorfer says, “and I can’t tell you how much we appreciate them. But they’re an aging population and it’s wearing some of them down. It’s time for us to come up with a permanent shelter staffed by qualified personnel.”
Another major advantage of establishing a permanent shelter: it would qualify for state funding which the current volunteer model does not.
Homeless advocates anticipate there will likely be some opposition to a permanent shelter because some folks already see the city’s homeless services as an attraction for the homeless who would otherwise head to other, warmer parts of the nation. Emmendorfer says no, the overwhelming majority are Marquette County and UP residents who need somewhere to go for shelter and food.
And, he points out, we all agree on the need for an ER for emergency medical services. How is an emergency shelter, especially in the cold, any different?