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'



Not complacent

Jobs and a long-term plan evade Rop and DeWitt, for now.

"People will say, 'Why don't you just get a job?'" DeWitt said. "Well, when you're homeless, where do you shower? Or prepare meals? Or sleep? What do you do about transportation? It's just so difficult if you don't have a roof over your head."

A job would provide income for a place to stay, but finding work is difficult without that place.

"You can't look too far ahead, because it just becomes so overwhelming," DeWitt said. "You have to address your most immediate needs, and that's shelter, food, a place to shower, then employment. If you try to put employment first, it's not going to work, and people don't understand that."

The homeless way of life also makes it hard to be presentable.

"When you're on the street, it's really difficult to keep job interview clothes dry and unwrinkled," Rop said. "If it rains, and you have your resumé in your backpack and your backpack gets wet, your resumé is ruined."

State and federal laws prevent employers from discriminating based on age, appearance and other factors. But doesn't mean it doesn't happen, Rop and DeWitt said. And with the current economic climate, they're competing with plenty of nonhomeless people for work.

"With the job market the way it is, and the amount of people who are out there looking for work, I'm not a very good candidate. There are hundreds of people who are more stable, who have a driver's license, a car, a home," DeWitt said. "I'm starting from below bottom. Who would hire me?"

The job hunt will continue until Rop and DeWitt land on their feet. Some homeless people don't much mind being that way, but they don't share that state of mind.

"They're content; it's something that they've accepted. The street is their home now," Rop said. "One of the things that has kept us going is we simply refuse to accept this as our lot in life."

"We're not happy with our situation," DeWitt said. "We've been people who had responsibility, and we were proud of ourselves, and other people were proud of us. I miss it, and I want it back," he said. "I put myself in this situation, but I'm damn well trying to get out of it. I'm not complacent."

Besides Rop's volunteer work at the State Theatre, both Rop and DeWitt volunteer their time beautifying areas of town known to collect trash, cigarette butts and liquor bottles. Recently, they went to the Jay Smith walkway in Traverse City — a spot notorious for problem-causing homeless people — and cleaned it up.

"Just because we're homeless doesn't mean we don't value our community," Rop said. "It's our home as much as it is anyone else's, it's just that we're on the street right now."

"We would like to be a part of this community, this society, and we would like to earn a reputation," DeWitt said. "It's not just for the community, it's also good for us."

Some homeless people will continue to cause problems, but Rop and DeWitt try not to judge.

"It's annoying to me, but I don't know their backgrounds, their history, their story, so I have to pull myself back because It's very easy to become judgmental," DeWitt said. "Becoming homeless is a humbling experience, and it's given me a completely different perspective."

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