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Meet Michigan's homeless, trying to survive this cold

These arctic nights can be deadly if you don't have a place to sleep.

A laid-off public school teacher, an evicted retiree, and a man who says he'll sleep on a park bench because he’s too drunk to pass the shelter’s Breathalyzer test tonight.  

The people at a daytime warming center in downtown Ann Arbor run the gamut. 

There's the guy with weathered skin and stained teeth who says he's been sober more than a month now.

Sherman Stennis says he lost his job at his uncle's scrapyard when it went out of business.

Now he spends his nights on one of dozens of mats squeezed into the shelter’s cafeteria; the waiting list for more permanent beds is long, typically about eight weeks once you sign up.  

Elizabeth Kurtz says she’s a laid-off Detroit Public Schools teacher, who “was (financially) right at that point that it pushed me over, to [this shelter]."

What she discovered, she says, was a shelter system where clashes with administrators or shelter regulations (usually, you need a blood alcohol level lower than .10)  drive some people away, leaving them to sleep outside on these arctic nights.  

That’s why she’s running an online fundraising effort to buy them subzero sleeping bags.

So far, she’s at$400 of her $1500 goal. 

Elizabeth Kurtz tells her story.

As we’re talking, a man with a fleece face mask walks in the shelter door. This guy, says Kurtz, is one of the people sleeping outside.

He says he goes by Bo. And he’s adamant about one thing: He’s just fine sleeping outside.

A man who goes by Bo says he'll sleep on a bench tonight, despite dangerous cold.

John E. Hunter Sr. is 73 years old, making him one of the more “senior” residents in this shelter.

He says he was a design draftsman before he retired. He says he became homeless after he was evicted – a ruling he says he’s still fighting.

Meanwhile, he says he’s lobbying the Ann Arbor City Council to give homeless shelters money to expand.

John Hunter, 73, says he was evicted after retirement, and is now advocating for local homeless centers.

The Delonis Center shelter says it's changed its normal policies; due to this weather, anyone would be allowed to stay overnight Monday night, even if their blood alcohol was over .10.

Whether that news got out in time, however, is uncertain.  An administrator says only one person’s blood alcohol was above the .10 level last night.

And the shelter says it's made sure all the outreach organizations it works with (including the Ann Arbor police, who got just two calls from homeless people asking for emergency help last night) know about the change, and can refer people to them if they need help. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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