“The man who lives beneath the bridge”
By Howard T Spence
It has been very cold this past month. Many of us have avoided being out and about in this weather. But not every body has a warm home to go to avoid this frigid Michigan winter weather. Homelessness here in mid-Michigan is very real. The plight of being homeless is especially bad during winter months.
This article is based on an interview I had with Allen S. Allen is a 26 year old single Black man who has been homeless for quite some time. He lives, when in Lansing, beneath a bridge over the Grand River.
You have seen homeless people as you drive on the streets standing on corners with signs asking for help or handouts. Some of them seem to be obviously homeless and impoverished – dressed in unkempt, ill fitting, worn and sometimes dirty clothing. Many stand asking for help on corners with backpacks which contain all of their worldly possessions. Sometimes these people seem to be somewhat scary and threatening, and people look the other way when they drive by them.
Homeless individuals show up at shelters which are sponsored by religious organizations or community agencies. Some of the larger homeless shelters in our area are Siren House, the Lansing Rescue Missions, the Salvation Army, or the Homeless Angels organization.
During the recent bitter cold which has engulfed our region, the homeless shelters in our communities have been full and have had to turn away people. Normally the shelters for homeless people are only open during night hours. You can see lines of homeless people standing outside shelters each evening around 6:00 pm in line waiting to try to secure one of the beds.
Allen S. is chronically homeless and has wandered around the downtown Lansing area for the past two years. He was originally from Jackson, Michigan, where he had been in foster care for much of his adolescent and adult life. He never graduated from high school or achieved a GED. Allen stated that he has ADHD and an “anxiety” condition. He has been incarcerated in jail "2 or 3 times" already in his young life. His family members and foster parents who have “given up” on him.
Allen survives by panhandling and finding cans to trade for deposits. His major connection to the world seems to be an old, battered cell phone which he uses whenever he can get access to a free open or public wireless connection.
Allen is an alcoholic. Sometimes he has difficulty prioritizing between getting food and getting alcohol. He drinks every day, and he states that his “favorites” are E & J whiskey and a beer-like alcoholic drink called "Natty Daddies." Allen also seems to be constantly wanting marijuana to help him with his “anxiety.”
Allen states that he “wants” to get a job and work, but he apparently has never met that goal. He basically lives and sleeps most nights outside beneath a bridge overpass along the Grand River. He carries all of his worldly belongings in a backpack which with him wherever he goes. He also has blankets from the Homeless Angels which he carefully hides in a location beneath the bridge.
Allen usually is up early in the morning and likes to go to a nearby Biggby coffee shop where he gets coffee and sits for extended periods of time listening to music. He sometimes gets on a CATA bus and rides aimlessly around the Lansing area while sipping on a “beverage” in his water bottle and listening to music. He sometimes goes to East Lansing and Michigan State University campus.
Allen showed me a beat up small New Testament which he carries everywhere. He stated that he likes to read it. He has received help and encouragement from some of the members at a Free Methodist Church which is located only a few blocks away from the bridge where he usually sleeps.
Allen’s is just one of the stories of homelessness found every day here in the greater Lansing area. During the recent bitter cold weather, a homeless person almost lost his life and froze to death in Reuters Park downtown near the library.
Allen stated that there had been a couple of times where he had become desperate and frostbitten, and he’s gone to the Sparrow Hospital emergency room where he has been able to stay for a few hours and warm-up. He told me his life is “not so bad” in the summer.
All of the homeless shelters do solicit and accept donations from the public to help them feed and shelter the homeless and distressed in our community – especially during these challenging winter months.
Howard T. Spence is a former Eaton County Commissioner representing residents in Delta Township. He is a licensed attorney, arbitrator, and former law judge.