Local organizations provide impactful resources to Mt. Pleasant population experiencing homelessness

According to the Isabella County Restoration House, there are 510 homeless individuals in Isabella County, with about 150 homeless children in our school systems. 

November is National Homelessness Awareness Month, but local nonprofits and organizations make it their mission year-round to help uplift and provide impactful resources to the population experiencing homelessness. 

For Mt. Pleasant individuals and families looking for a little extra help in affording groceries, a hot supper, or a safe place to sleep, local non-profit organizations can provide shelter, solace, and a second chance. 

Isabella County Restoration House

Dee Obrecht is the executive director of the Isabella County Restoration House, which has been operating for a decade as a rotational homeless shelter. Each week from late October to mid-April, the organization provides overnight shelter in partnership with local churches who provide their space. 

Obrecht says although a national problem, locally, homelessness looks a bit different than people picture. 

“The Governor’s task force has identified Isabella County as the highest poverty rate in Michigan this summer,” she says. “It’s a huge thing in our county, and people may look and think, ‘Well we don’t have a problem—but our homeless people hide. We aren’t like Grand Rapids or Detroit where you might see them sleeping under a bridge, but they are there. They are a little embarrassed at their situation, and want help and to become self-sufficient, so that’s what we focus on.”

Courtesy Isabella County Restoration House
Obrecht credits much of the homelessness population to the huge housing insecurity the nation is experiencing, with people paying more than 50% of their income towards housing. Coupling that with costly medical care, inflating prices of groceries, and low-paying part-time jobs, that can create a spiraling sensation, says Obrecht. 

In order to help those families during the traumatic experience of being homeless, Isabella County Restoration House also connects people with mental health services and other referrals. 

“They want to be productive people in our community, and want to get back on their feet and some of them need help to get there,” Obrecht says. 

Within the last few years, the Restoration House added on a guest shelter for daytimes, increasing a safe space, showers, laundry, an address, computers, a locked storage unit, meals, and connection with services. After opening up just a few weeks ago for the season, they’re nearly at capacity (30) already.

The organization also works to create a self-sufficiency plan, providing resources to help individuals work on rehousing into permanent housing. 

Obrecht recommends those needing shelter assistance or seeking to volunteer, to visit their website. 

United Way of Gratiot and Isabella Counties

Brittany Stoneman is the community impact manager at the United Way of Gratiot and Isabella Counties. In her role, she serves as a connector, understanding and meeting the needs of residents throughout the community. She oversees the ALICE (asset limited, income constrained, employed) community support fund.

United Way involves schools throughout the counties in a coin war challenge called Coins for a Cause, in order to raise funds for those experiencing homelessness locally. The nonprofit provides schools with messaging materials, coin containers, and a pizza party for the winning classrooms to get students excited about raising funds.

Courtesy United Way of Gratiot and Isabella Counties
“United Way commits to matching up to $10,000 raised for each county,” Stoneman says. “Coins for a Cause started from an idea with Gratiot County Hope House in 2021. In 2022, United Way partnered to increase the impact and expand that initiative across both counties. We partner with Gratiot County Hope House and Isabella County Restoration House.”

Last year, Coins for a Cause raised over $15,000 for Gratiot County Hope House and nearly $8,000 for Isabella County Restoration House. This year, about 250 classrooms across both counties are participating. 

Stoneman says by each student bringing in a couple of coins, the overall impact is much larger and truly provides life-changing support for those struggling. Together, their collaborative support can help assist residents with overcoming other hurdles and barriers those experiencing homelessness might deal with too. Additional obstacles include things like lacking a physical mailing address, housing application fees, basic toiletries, meals, clothing, and more. 

At United Way, Stoneman is proud to increase education and awareness on housing and food insecurities, and increase fundraising efforts so these dedicated nonprofits can help even more people with their missions.

Stoneman encourages residents to visit their website for donations, volunteer opportunities, and to learn more about their programming. To those in need of supportive services, she recommends dialing 211 for essential help.

Isabella Community Soup Kitchen

After a Central Michigan University student witnessed another student who was eating a ketchup sandwich, a school project for a soup kitchen transformed into a full-fledged reality. The Isabella Community Soup Kitchen was launched in a few different church basements in 1990, and in 2002, broke ground on their current location at 631 S. Adams in Mt. Pleasant. In 2019, the kitchen expanded their dining room, and reopened a new kitchen in January 2023 to diners. 

Volunteer at the Isabella County Soup Kitchen. Photo: Courtesy Isabella County Soup Kitchen
Sara Schafer is the executive director of Isabella Community Soup Kitchen, and has seen an increasing community demand, resulting in a growing space to provide for local residents.

“We are open Monday through Friday, offering free breakfast and lunch to anyone who’s in need. We don’t ask any questions.” she says. “Additionally, we also act as a food-sharing-hub for the area, so we go to local businesses and pick up donated food items. Whatever we can’t use in-house here, we share with local nonprofits,” Schafer says. 

In-house, nutritious meals typically feature a main item, side, vegetable and fruit option, a starch, beverages and desserts. Past menu items have included BBQ chicken, macaroni and cheese, sirloin steak, coney dogs, smoked salmon, goulash, meatloaf, and more.

Courtesy Isabella County Soup Kitchen

The organization brings in 20-30,000 pounds of food, and shares 15-25,000 pounds of that with local organizations across the county. 

Volunteer at the Isabella County Soup Kitchen. Photo: Courtesy Isabella County Soup Kitchen
“We like to think of ourselves as a bridge for folks in the community. A lot of people assume we only serve homeless people here, but we also serve a wide variety of people here. We have children who come in here, veterans, college students, unemployed or underemployed people who are looking for a little assistance,” Schafer says. 

Anyone is welcome at the soup kitchen, no questions asked. 

“We know that food is a basic necessity, and we’re happy to be providing that for free to people. We’ve all felt the impact of the pandemic and post-pandemic inflation, so anything we can do to help people get themselves into a better position, we are happy to do,” she adds.

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Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at sarahspohn.news@gmail.com.