City, community partners wrap around local homeless individuals as temperatures drop

Published 10:48 am Wednesday, December 23, 2020

NILES — A few camping tents, picnic tables, a portable restroom and a firepit have taken up residence in the backyard of Ferry Street Resource Center in Niles. The quiet operation has cropped up at the corner of Ferry and N. Seventh streets over the past several weeks.

“We’ve started working closely with the city,” said FSRC Director Ric Pawloski. “The city approached us about setting [a few people] up here.”

The individuals living in tents are the city’s chronically homeless individuals.

The resource center gave the individuals living in the tent camps coats, hats, gloves, boots, blankets and sleeping bags to help keep them warm as the temperatures in southwest Michigan begin to drop to winter freezes.

Fence posts are installed around the property, but the privacy fence is still in progress.

At a Nov. 23 Niles City Council meeting, council members unanimously approved a $2,775 emergency purchase and installation of a privacy fence from Custom Fence in Niles.

“What we’re trying to do here in Niles is make sure that the homeless population is safe, that they have food and that they have places to throw away their trash,” said City Administrator Ric Huff at a Dec. 14 meeting. “[Community Development Director] Sanya [Vitale] and her crew are following up with them and making sure that they are picking up after themselves and trying to make sure the area is as clean as possible. Rather than having homeless people scattered throughout the community, we’re trying to consolidate the issue to where it’s a manageable situation and can actually keep an eye on what’s going on.”

Vitale said the Michigan Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness Program has visited from Kalamazoo and is helping the community partners and individuals in the encampment work toward a more permanent solution.

Without a full shelter in place, Vitale said community partners are helping to provide “wrap around” services for the people struggling in the encampment.

Pawloski said once a week, the individuals are able to take showers at the Niles-Buchanan YMCA and are fed by a local business at least once per week. He said area churches have also stepped in to provide meals and fellowship.

According to Vitale, the city is providing grants for the weekly meals, as well as the portable restroom and picnic tables.

“In between the people and the food, people call me and ask if they can feed [the individuals],” Pawloski said. “We are working on getting them into permanent situations.”

Vitale said the police and fire departments help keep an eye on the encampment.

“My [community development] department and working with Ferry Street Resource Center – we are getting to know people and trying to gain their trust,” Vitale said. “We are getting to know their stories and trying to get them to trust us so that we can move them somewhere. If there are issues, I can go and talk with them and remind them that we care about them and that maybe things can move forward and onward and upward. One day at a time.”

Pawloski spends his days at the Ferry Street Resource Center working to help people access assistance, stay in their homes and find work. He makes it a point to speak with the people living in the back yard of the center.

“There are only five people living in the back,” Pawloski said. “They’re great folks back there. Part of it is convincing them to function in a different circumstance.”