GREENVILLE — When Kim Cain, Amanda Wright and Rachel Pung decided to stand on corners of M-57 and M-91 with cardboard signs to share the statistics of homelessness, they weren’t sure what to expect.
Their goal Friday afternoon was to spread awareness of the severity of homelessness. One sign stated that approximately 99,975 people were homeless in Michigan in 2015. Another sign shared that the average age of a homeless child is 7.6 years old, while another sign informed of the 2,723 infants born into poverty every day. Yet another sign sought to raise awareness that the main reason people experience homeless is job loss — not substance abuse.
Cain is the director of Have Mercy, a Greenville agency serving the homeless population in Montcalm and Ionia counties. Wright and Pung are case managers for Have Mercy. All three women ended up learning a lot while standing outside Friday.
“It’s humbling to stand out here … and all we’re doing is trying to advertise and bring awareness,” Cain said. “I’m sitting here thinking how much worse it would be to sit here asking for some money.”
Cain was shocked at the lack of attention and interaction she received while standing at the intersection. She was only out there for an hour, but she said it felt more like five hours. During that time, only one person took the time to talk to her.
Pung had someone offer her money, which she accepted to put toward Have Mercy.
“I’m trying to bring visibility to the issue while I’m standing here being invisible,” Cain said.
She noted how weird it was to be completely exposed and surrounded by people, yet feel invisible and lonely at the same time. She said it felt like everyone passing by was trained to look away when they saw a cardboard sign.
“I get awkward looks even though I’m not asking for anything,” Pung said. “I wouldn’t want to be doing this trying to survive, not every day.”
As a young adult, Pung overcame homelessness and has been doing homelessness case managing since 2007. Friday was the first time she’s stood on a corner holding a sign.
“It raises awareness of the severity of our homeless population. Hopefully, these numbers resonate with people,” she said.
Todd and Shannon Smith (not their real names) offered to help Cain, Wright and Pung. The Smiths battled homelessness for four months and were finally housed on Friday. They wanted to help raise awareness about the situation they just overcame.
“This is us,” Todd said. “It’s what we’ve been through.”
The numbers Have Mercy shared didn’t surprise the Smiths. They spent two weeks at a shelter and saw firsthand how sizable the homeless population is.
“It’s not necessary,” Todd said. “What happened to the saying ‘no man left behind’ of ‘take care of your own’?”
The Smiths were able to fight their way out of homeless, but they said it was a long hard fight.
“When times get really tough and you’re at the bottom and you don’t think there is any way out, you have to keep your faith. That’s what it boils down to. Don’t let it get to you,” Shannon said.
Pung and Cain said they would go through the experience again, even if it was humbling.
“This was a good study for us, and I think we all found personal value as well as serving the purpose of raising awareness of homelessness in our community,” Cain said.