TRAVERSE CITY — This time, Ryan Hannon walks for 13.
The 13 lives, the 13 people with names, ages, faces and emotions, lost on Traverse City’s streets this year.
Hannon coordinates Goodwill Northern Michigan’s Street Outreach program, and through those on-the-ground efforts, knows every name and every face.
“When we get word, when we get the call (about a death), it hurts. It’s stuff that can be so preventable,” Hannon, also the organization’s housing navigation manager, said. “Especially if someone dies alone out there — it’s, to me, a very terrible circumstance.”
The number was 12 until Dec. 4, when another man was found dead. Most are on the streets, though some are recent housing placements, Hannon said.
Each is a community-wide loss, and Hannon invited fellow Traverse City residents to mourn alongside him during Monday’s Longest Night of the Year walk through downtown Traverse City at 7 p.m. outside the Grand Traverse County Governmental Center, 400 Boardman Ave.
Locally, the evening of remembrance comes in the form of a silent, socially distant walk and vigil.
They’re steps trod many times before — the Longest Night of the Year takes place annually as a bitter reminder of those not saved. Traverse City has participated for the past 10 years.
“It’s a way to raise community awareness about this issue of homelessness,” said Ashley Halladay-Schmandt, director of the Northwest Michigan Coalition to End Homelessness. “We think about the people that we’ve lost every single day in our work.”
The years vary, Hannon added. Sometimes, he walks for four. Once, it was nearly 30.
While trends have dipped lower since those dozens were laid to rest, losses are devastating, but not wholly surprising, to those closest to the population.
“Being out on the streets is a very, very difficult way to live,” said Mike McDonald, board chairman for nonprofit Safe Harbor, a shelter offering beds and hot dinners during the worst months of northern Michigan winter. “They’re just people, (like you or me).”
The problem comes with an obvious solution — affordable housing. But housing proves its own dilemma in Traverse City, where high rents, predatory scammers, deposits and low wages make it difficult to find in-budget housing, for those on the streets, young people stuck with roommates and families barely making ends meet.
“Thirteen people died in Traverse City in the past year because they didn’t have housing,” Hannon said. “it doesn’t have to be this way.”
About 13,000 people die while experiencing homelessness annually nationwide, according to the release. Their lives tend to be short — something Hannon is well aware of.
“Poor health conditions; lack of adequate health care; lack of access to consistent, traditional meals, proper sleep, high stress,” he said. “Often, people experiencing homelessness are in fight or flight mode. Their defenses are up for, sometimes, days on end.”
The walk is set to last about 45 minutes.
“This is why we do this work — so that people don’t die on the streets,” Halladay-Schmandt said. “We (want to) have solutions for everyone experiencing homelessness.”