Homeless family sees a ray of hope

HOUGHTON – Help appears to be on the way for a homeless Copper Country woman and her adult son, but they’re still not sure when they’ll have a roof over their heads.

Karen O’Connell said she’s been told by Child and Family Services of the Upper Peninsula that she qualifies for a Michigan State Housing Development Authority voucher that will pay for her to move into a new apartment, but hasn’t been told when that voucher will be available.

“I don’t know when it’ll come through, but they said they’ll send the papers,” O’Connell said Monday. “They said it won’t be a problem, but this is what they have to do.”

In the meantime, O’Connell, her son Derik and their dog Grizzly will continue to live in a tent on a vacant lot just off Sharon Avenue in Houghton, returning to O’Connell’s sister Debbie’s apartment for showers and hot food during the day.

“(State agencies) put me to the front of the line because I’m literally living in the bush,” O’Connell said.

Karen and Derik O’Connell had been sleeping in Debbie’s apartment, but were forced to move out when Debbie’s son returned home from foster care. According to Karen, state authorities in charge of the boy’s welfare weren’t comfortable with relatives on the couches and said the boy would be taken back into state custody unless they moved out.

Child and Family Services Housing Resource Specialist John Prost said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the O’Connells’ housing situation due to confidentiality requirements, but did say that “things are looking better” for the O’Connells.

“We’ve been working with her diligently,” he said. “We never want to see anyone homeless.”

There are no dedicated homeless shelters in the Keweenaw, though there are a few shelters for battered women. Child and Family Services is the agency most directly charged with combating general homelessness. The agency helps those facing homelessness through several different programs, but Prost said many of those programs focus their funding on the winter months, when living outdoors can be deadly.

“It’s tough this time of year,” Prost said. “A lot of funding dries up after winter.”

O’Connell said she wasn’t sure for how long the MSHDA voucher would cover rent at a new apartment, but guessed it would last “until I get on my feet, when I get a decent job.”

Until then, she’s living day-to-day and waiting for that fresh start.

“It’s going to happen that I get a place,” she said. “It’s just nerve-wracking waiting.”

Anyone interested in helping the O’Connells can contact them through Debbie, at 523-5546. The Gazette did not print Debbie’s last name to protect the identity of her son, a minor.