Study to research behaviors of U.P. homeless

kate.annala

Homelessness in the Upper Peninsula does exist, and NMU student Francois Vachon is researching this firsthand.

With the help of Tim Hilton and sociology professor Cornell DeJong, Vachon, a senior majoring in sociology, is examining the day-to-day life of the homeless in the U.P. The focus of the study is to examine the coping strategies of a homeless person in a cold rural environment.

“I wanted to do research, so I knocked on (professors’) doors,” Vachon explained.

He went around the Sociology Department, asking if there was a study he could conduct. Hilton and DeJong had a research proposal for Vachon.

“We were looking for a project to do, and Cornell and I were kind of pondering a current one,” Hilton explained.

According to the researchers, the project was started at the end of May, and it will continue for about seven years.

Many would argue that homelessness doesn’t exist in the U.P., but the three researchers say this is because of the stereotypes people have of the homeless.

“We look at Detroit and D.C. and think of the cardboard boxes. Homeless people around here are hidden,” DeJong explained.

Hilton agreed with DeJong’s assessment.

“People who are ‘good’ at being homeless are adaptive. They don’t get noticed,” Hilton said.

According to the researchers, studies like this are mostly done in big cities; rural areas have not been studied in-depth. Vachon, Hilton and DeJong are taking the “homeless perspective” in hopes of finding the “cracks” in the social service system.

“The needs far outweigh what’s available,” Hilton explained. “There are cracks; things that don’t seem to fit.”

While doing the study, they found that the subjects have regular relationships with their family and friends. Hilton said a common misconception is that they don’t have anyone to turn to, and that’s why they are homeless.

This is not always the case, he explained. The family and friends provide what they can. Sometimes, family members don’t have the resources themselves, but they usually help a loved one who is homeless.

Vachon felt studying homelessness in the U.P. was important because if people are aware, they can help. He believes the Marquette community can come together to help those who have been down on their luck. Being an NMU student, Vachon encouraged his fellow students to help this cause.

“Students can volunteer at places like Room at the Inn,” he said. “They can also contribute and help community members.”

Hilton and DeJong agreed that awareness of homelessness is the main issue.

“The issue is not easy to see. We need to devote energy and resources to this,” explained Hilton. “We can see how to make people’s lives better. This study is providing an example.”

Hilton and DeJong encouraged NMU students to volunteer, as well.

“In many of your occupations you are going to encounter homeless people.doctors, nurses, teachers, psychologists (all encounter the homeless),” DeJong said. “Having some sensitivity and knowing what their life is like will help.”

DeJong commented on Francois’ experience.

“He got to work on the project, develop the proposal, work on the human subject committee, set up and conduct interviews, give research presentations,” he said. “This is good experience. And he can use this when he goes to grad school.”

Vachon feels fortunate to be part of this research project.

“Its’ been amazing,” said Vachon, reflecting on his experience. “I love it. You can learn in classes, but this is hands on. I feel like I’m making a contribution (and) really making a difference.”