Tonight I will walk through areas of downtown Traverse City with my colleagues Lisa Blackford and Brandon Everest and we’ll be accompanied by about one hundred of our students from 5 different classes, their friends and family, and members of the community. We’ll be led by our friend (and good friend to all those in need in Northern Michigan) Ryan Hannon from Goodwill Street Outreach.
Lisa, Brandon, and I have helped Ryan set up this walk the past four years. Each year we’ve learned something new or had our view of homelessness shifted in some way. Last year, for example, Traverse City Police Chief Jeff O’Brien broke down in tears as he told students about losing members of our community to exposure in the winter. He told us some stories about one individual and described him as his friend. His reaction made me reflect on how homelessness also causes pain for those in the community who do not directly suffer from lack of housing. My students were moved to see that a police officer views homelessness not just as a legal situation but also as a human situation.
I won’t lie to you. This walk is not always fun to organize and our students don’t always show up willingly. We’ve assigned this project to them and in the beginning some of them do voice resentment. Why do we keep doing it? In the past, we have had some of our grumpiest students change their attitudes dramatically after this walk. Not all the students do this. We’re not in a Hollywood film. However, the fact that we have some students reacting this way each year in itself is a miracle.
As we sat down with Ryan this year to plan out the itinerary, we asked him if we should keep doing this walk or if it was “becoming old.” Ryan paused, looked at us for a moment and said earnestly “Well it’s new for each group of students we take out.”