2016-01-24 / Insight

Imlay City-area community helping those who struggle

BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com

IMLAY CITY — There’s no Bowery or Skid Row in Imlay City, but there are homeless people.

“I think it’s a pretty big deal,” said Linda Looper, chairman of St. Paul Lutheran Church’s Food for Families ministry, even though only one or two people come by the church on Cedar Street each week looking for help.

Dora Shagena, director of Imlay City’s Hispanic Service Center, said her 501(3)c provided 1,452 nights of shelter for roughly 35 people over the past 5 months. “We only deal with families,” she said, noting the center has housed families from just a couple up to eight people.

She said that while the center tries to get families back on their feet in 45 days, they’ve had families stay in their two apartments for up to 70 days.

Shagena noted that while the sign on the door says Hispanic Service Center, 75 percent of the people she helps aren’t. “Half the time they come here with nothing,” she said. “There are all kinds of situations, but generally the parents in the family are under 45 and they have children still in school.”

She noted, “We get a lot of single mothers,” adding “people lose their jobs and people get sick. The biggest problem is people wait to the last minute before they do anything.”

Looper said when the ministry first opened in 2008, she had one local woman who ended up living in her car with her dog while she struggled to get her disability recognized.

Shagena said last February she had one man who was living in his car when it was 20-degrees below. She said just last Thursday one homeless man walked into her office and another was found standing along Cedar Street.

“There’s a big need for shelters for singles in Lapeer County,” Shagena said. She and Looper agreed that the Refuge in Lapeer does a good job, but they both observed it’s difficult for homeless people to get from one side of the county to the other.

Lapeer County Undersheriff Bob Rapson said his department’s primary contact with homeless people is along the county’s roadsides. “We try to get them to shelter,” he said. That could be at The Refuge or Salvation Army in Flint.

He said it’s a fairly infrequent thing and the most common is a transient breaking down along I-69.

Rapson said there was a time when homeless people would commit a misdemeanor to ensure a place for the winter, but that stopped around 2000 when habitual offender statutes meant that kind of behavior could lead to prison sentences.

He noted that while there’s homelessness in every corner of the county, the population gravitates to cities where there are services.

Being homeless doesn’t necessarily mean being a bum either. Looper said she knows one man who had a job, until the company he worked for recently closed, who, after paying all his bills, found himself living in his car. “He was staying in hotels on the weekend, when he could afford it.”

Shagena said people in need should call 2-1-1, where they can be directed to the services that can help them.

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