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Silent walk in Traverse City honors those who passed away while homeless

Max Johnston
Interlochen Public Radio

Every year, about 13,000 people die in the United States while experiencing homeless.

“The most frequent way people die…is heart attacks, drug overdose, and being hit by cars,” said Ryan Hannon, Community Engagement Officer at Goodwill Northern Michigan. “Hypothermia is low on the list but it does happen in our area.”

In 2021, the Traverse City region had 11 people die while dealing with a housing emergency.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. The people that passed away wanted housing,” said Hannon.

According to Hannon, it's important to listen first and understand the actual needs of the individual.

“Oftentimes, we see someone in need and we think they are in total need when they have resources and they have previous life experience and they can use that,” he said. “It can be disrespectful of us to think that we think someone that is homeless can’t do anything for themselves.”

One example Hannon shared was from a woman who received some generosity from neighbors, but was still missing a vital key.

“People kept coming up to her and giving her food [and she told me] ‘I don’t even know what to do with all this. What I need is a place to stay.’”

The only solution to homelessness, says Hannon, is housing.

“Some people exiting homelessness may need a subsidy and caseworker to help them, other people might need a short-term subsidy, and others might just need a short shelter stay and some housing leads to where they can get out of homelessness. So, rather than trying to ‘fix’ the population, it’s about talking to the people experiencing homelessness, learning what they need…to get out of homelessness and then helping them rather than where we think they need [help],” he said.

The Silent Walk for National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day will take place at the Grand Traverse Governmental Center Tuesday, December 21st at 7p.m.

Kendra Carr joined IPR as the All Things Considered host in 2019. She previously worked at WMOM in Ludington as the News Director. In 2017, WMOM received the Michigan Association of Broadcasters "Station of the Year" award.