Traverse City Record-Eagle


October 14, 2012

GT region plays host to about 330 people who have no homes

'We simply refuse to accept this as our lot in life'

TRAVERSE CITY — Renee Rop stood inside the State Theatre's main entrance and smiled at those who streamed in to watch the recent presidential debate.

Rop, 48, appeared no different than several other volunteers who buzzed about selling tickets or serving popcorn in the historic downtown Traverse City venue. Much needed to be done for the busy event, and Rop was more than happy to help.

But as the rest of those volunteers went home to warm beds, Rop and her boyfriend trudged across town in the pouring rain and went to sleep on the concrete, sheathed in well-worn sleeping bags to ward off the cold.

Rop and boyfriend Richard DeWitt, 53, don't have a home. But they don't fit the homeless stereotype.

"We've been painted with a relatively broad brush. The average citizen who isn't in the homeless community, what they notice are the ones who are panhandling, loitering, drinking in public, urinating in the bushes, they're unkempt, unshaven. That's what they see," DeWitt said. "They don't notice Renee and myself. They don't see that side."

Homeless people are at the center of considerable public attention following several drunken disturbances downtown. Some city officials recently discussed ways to push homeless people from public parks and discourage street people from frequenting highly visible downtown areas.

At last count, the Grand Traverse region played host to roughly 330 people who primarily live on the street or in homeless shelters. Several hundred more don't have a permanent residence or are at immediate risk of becoming homeless.

But for every homeless person who makes a scene, dozens more are all but invisible.

"Most of them, you don't see," said Ryan Hannon, street outreach coordinator for Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan. "Most of them aren't causing problems. They're doing the best they can ... and they don't want to make waves."

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