Cindy Johns discusses homelessness and the causes of homelessness in the Flint area.
Carriage Town Ministries began in 1950 as the Flint Rescue Mission on the banks of the Flint River at Grand Traverse Street. The organization has been working to find solutions to poverty and homelessness for 70 years. The community has supported the work of the organization throughout those years.
Many faithful Flint area churches and individuals recognize the calling of Matthew 25 to be ministers to the hungry, the thirsty, and the individuals in need of a place to stay. The Carriage Town organization seeks to find the cause of homelessness for each individual they serve.
Carriage Town today is located on a campus of learning and restoration in Flint's historic Carriage Town neighborhood. Visitors and residents find a haven of safety and acceptance, learning and responsibility, structure and productivity…A place to find a new birth, a sense of purpose for today, clothing items, and hope for tomorrow.
Finding homelessness solutions requires resources and community collaboration.
We discuss specifically the remarkable progress of people in serving the homeless population. Carriage Town Ministries welcomes volunteers, donations of certain clothing items, and monetary donations.
Michigan's Troubadour, Neil Woodward, and songwriter David O. Norris provided the music in this podcast. Neil Woodward performs the song Peach Tree Creek. The song Peach Tree Creek honors Michigan's 10th Infantry Regiment from the Flint area, who fought in the civil war battle at Peach Tree Creek (March to the Sea).
If you want to volunteer, donate or need services for the homeless, please follow this link to Carriage Town Ministries.
Here is a list of other Homeless Shelters serving the Flint area.
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This transcript is generated on speech recognition software and human transcribers. and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before using it as a reference or source.
Transcript of Interview with Cindy Johns, Carriage Town Ministries
Hello, thank you for joining us. This is Arthur Busch, and I'm your host. This is Radio Free Flint you're listening to.
Today's guest is Cindy Johns, community engagement director for the carriage town ministries.
I want to talk to you about homelessness and how the Flint area is approaching the homeless problem.
I want to start by just understanding what the problem is today.
Would I like to get a picture of the dimensions of the homelessness problem in Genesee County and perhaps even talk about different types of homelessness that might exist?
Some people, maybe. Homeless for a short period. An extended time intermittently.
So, people are homeless for many reasons, some as simple as major crises in their lives.
And they're unable to sustain their home expenses. And then others, of course, deal with issues in their life, from addiction to mental health issues. And those individuals may have multiple experiences of homelessness. It takes a lot of work to change your life and to move from something like that into a self-sufficient lifestyle. So, we do have people who rotate through the systems.
We do experience several people who come to us and have a tragedy of some sort, and they go through our program.
And then, they get back on their feet and do not experience more episodes of homelessness.
You say tragedy; are you talking about home fires or serious illness?
Yes, home fires medical issues—people who have lost their jobs for some reason or another.
Those who have quit their jobs to care for a family. Members huge variety of things that would cause somebody to end up without their home.
When I was growing up in the South end of Flint by Fisher Body, railroad tracks went behind the house.
There were trains all the time bringing in auto parts, and at one point, they started shipping cars from Fisher Body to Buick along the railroad tracks were the old hobos.
We called them hobos, and some of them were scary fellows.
I didn't see too many women.
This isn't the population that you're talking about, is it?
No, it is not. Some people are transient and travel the country, but most of the population that we deal with are people from Flint and Genesee County who have experienced a tragedy or difficulty in their lives.
In terms of this dimension, is this in every community in Genesee County?
I would say that it's in every community that there exists homelessness.
There are many ways to address homelessness. You'd call a cop, and hopefully, they ship them down the road.
We did have people who were what you call transients at one point. The city of Flint had a downtown foot patrol. What they got for patrol officers, they would counter these individuals and ship them on their way. In other words, don't stop here. Keep going wherever else you can.
Is that one approach the city takes today or any other city in the county? Do you know?
Yes, that is an approach that you see. Unfortunately, it makes homelessness kind of a crime.
And in Genesee County, I think we're trying to work away from that where homelessness is not a crime and.
Panhandling is a crime of sorts.
And going to the bathroom on the street, that's another crime, yes, occupying a street so that people can't go by it or a sidewalk that's obstructing.
There's another crime. Is that what you're saying?
Those kinds of things we don't want to pay attention to anymore?
So, I think that those are a reality.
So, places like Carriage Town Ministries open their doors so people can come in to carry Sean Ministries and use the bathroom.
A Catholic charity also does this.
You can go in so that you do not so that you can avoid problems.
It comes with the police or whatever, and we also provide enough beds, so you should not sleep in a bed tonight.
So, your services involve shelter activity, meaning if you do not have a place to sleep tonight and qualify, you can come to carriage town ministries.
Yes, yes, that is our predominant service being shelter. We also have many other services to assist those who live in extreme poverty.
Now, in terms of what the capacity is in Flint.
Approximately 330 to 350 individuals in Genesee County are considered homeless on any given day.
Some of those are sheltered, so they stay in one of the shelters, and then some are considered unsheltered, meaning they sleep on the streets or in abandoned houses. We do a count. It's called a point-in-time count. It's done in January. We attempt to count as many people as possible in Genesee County who fall into that category.
That is imprecise because some of those in that category may be at a rest stop off I-75.
So, when HUD looks at this, they are looking at programs that they might be funding, or that they know are funded by the community, such as the YWCA or such as carriage town, or shelter Flint, or something like this, where they are actually, hosting people within their facility.
That is correct. HUD does send money into the community based on this count.
In Flint and I looked at some of the places I had traveled to recently. Seattle, Vancouver, BC, Nashville, and the Tampa Saint Pete area.
Homelessness in the nation has seemingly come from behind the bushes, and it seems to be more.
People sense that it's just overrun the city, especially in the north.
Is this something that has happened in Flint?
There are places where the homeless gather and stay in their cars or tents. It is not true to say that it overruns our city. I do not think that is true because the number of homeless populations has decreased over the last ten years.
It has continued to decrease in Flint.
Well, that's amazing. Now is that because of the? Programming that has been launched or what?
Well, that is what we all hope, right? That is why we all exist to help people move from homelessness to self-sufficiency and not experience homelessness again.
So, I would say yes, as part of it.
People do leave the area.
When I saw West was quite disturbing because you would see these tent cities that emerged along the expressways or the freeways. They were under bridges, near bridges, or near downtown areas. They just set up, you know, shanty towns.
Do we have that in Flint?
There are a few places that that does exist in Flint and Genesee County.
So, every once in a while, in Seattle. They just come and take them down, and all you know, the DPW comes along. They pitch all their junk in the back of a garbage truck, and away it goes problem in Flint, with all of its unemployment, you would think would be more pronounced.
Yes, but our numbers show fewer homeless than ten years ago.
Well, that's good news about Flint. Do you have any surmise about exactly what causes those people to go to Seattle or wherever they are going, or are they going somewhere?
Are they getting so much help that they have become not homeless?
I do not understand what is being done in Flint that's different than other places because in other places?
So, these are some of the solutions we have had in Flint. We do work together.
The shelters work together, and other agencies work together for the success of the homeless person, which would be to move into a self-sufficient lifestyle.
A home that they can sustain. There also is an idea at Carriage Town to assist an individual with job training.
And coaching, we hire transitional employees at Carriage Town. Give them an opportunity to learn the cadence of work and to prove that they are a good worker, and then they can put that on their resume and get a job.
Many of those who are at Carriage Town can get jobs they have. Having an address is key to getting a job, so if they stay with us, they have an address. They have the opportunity to get a job with us for low-barrier transitional employment.
Transition work for us for six months or eight months. Put it on your resume; you have a better chance of getting a job.
So, Flint's providing wrap-around services to these folks. They're providing mental health care.
They're providing jobs, job training, and search skills. The issues of homelessness are not just that you don't have a home there. The issues are bigger than that. And what I saw in Seattle was some of the trendiest parts of their city downtown, where they have flagship headquarters of many corporations that are known across the globe.
These people camped in front of their buildings, and there was squalor. These are like, I mean, Flint doesn't get it when it comes to compared to a big city like Seattle, it's not glittery as not as glittery in Flint as it is in some parts of downtown Seattle, but this problem diminishes those parts.
People feel it's not safe. Quite frankly, there were times when I worried about walking at nighttime.
In Flint, is it because we've had such a long history of unemployment here that we've gotten good at homelessness? After all, I wasn't expecting it. Like this, when I talk to you, I am surprised that this is a good story.
It's a good story about a bad subject, OK?
Right Carriage Town Ministries has been here since 1950. The number of people through our facility has gone up and down over time. We have added beds, and then other facilities have opened.
I don't know why we can do a better job other than I can tell you that we work together with other homeless facilities and try to coordinate care so that we have a continuum of care. Here in the city and all the agencies that work with homelessness attend a monthly meeting all for the express purpose of helping somebody move from a homeless situation into a self-sufficient lifestyle.
So, when you're talking about we in the community, you're not just talking about some non-profits someplace, but carriage town has had as its hallmark because its calling card involvement in the community.
I mean, people come here; they volunteer time. Since I was a little boy, I remember carriage town as a little boy.
Many people will say, oh, I can't. Same as a child to serve dinner or something like that, yeah?
The carriage town saved it, changed its name from the rescue mission to carriage town ministries, and I'm not sure what the branding effort was there.
So, in the 1980s, we moved from the original building as it was down on.
The river it into the carriage town neighborhood, so now that we expanded services, they chose to take the name of the neighborhood, the carriage town.
They chose the name ministries because not only were we providing a place to eat at night and a bed to sleep in. We had expanded services.
So now, from the traditional gospel rescue mission, a place to eat, a place to sleep where you can come in at night, you have a place. To eat dinner, you get showers, laundry facilities, case management, a safe place to sleep, breakfast, and the ability to visit our computer center. We have healthcare facilities.
We have job training, different classes, budgeting classes, things like that. So, the ministry has expanded not only to those who are homeless but also to individuals in the community, so we run a, you know, back-to-school program.
We run a summer education program at Christmas, adopt A family program which many places we wanted to expand out and provide opportunities for people in the community so that they wouldn't become homeless, and that was the driving force for our summer education program is if children are more educated, the chance of becoming.
You know, driving by the rescue mission, I'd always stare at it and say, mom, do you think that that's scary there or mom, do you think it's safe over there could and I never wanted to go in it because it had these scary guys. You know, going up and down a railroad track behind our house.
Do you think that stereotype has been a hurdle for your efforts to try and show people that homelessness isn't just some guy with a knapsack on his back wandering around on railroad tracks?
I think the face of homelessness has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. According to some National Statistics, the average homeless person is now actually a woman in her 20s with two children.
You know, I sometimes run across people who say, oh, I didn't know you helped women like well, yeah, families come to because she's younger.
Those children tend to be young, so the face of homelessness is different. The stereotype is an older guy with a beard.
That's the stereotype that homelessness is much broader than that and is much younger.
We had some strange names as kids for those guys too. As I remember, we called them winos because if they got any money, somebody would give him the money they would go right away and buy Boones Farm or something like this. Some cheap wine. He goes to a convenience store again.
I worked in Flint for almost 25 years downtown. I remember walking down Saginaw St one day with Joe Wilson, the sheriff.
It's about lunch hour, and some guy was hanging around Halo Burger downtown, and he was panhandling essentially, and the sheriff joke reaches in his pocket and gives a guy a $5 bill or something.
I looked at him, and I said what? What are you doing?
He's a generous, understanding Christian man, but that guy will not buy food for that money. I knew that from growing up.
That is sometimes true. So, I recommend you give them a granola bar and a card with the address of Carriage Town Ministries.
Exactly what I told them when they came up to me.
I would say, you know, there's a place just a few blocks away where not only can you get a few bucks, you could probably get some food and a place to stay for the night peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches, you know, yes.
I remember they held church services there because our church had people who went there and sang songs, and you know, all that stuff.
But carriage town has a rich history of affiliation with the religious community in Flint.
Yes, we do. Yeah, we are a faith-based Christian ministry.
Each weeknight, we still hold Chapel services available for anybody to attend, including people in the community. Obviously, because of the pandemic, we have had to close. But it will be opening up soon for the public to come in for nightly Chapel services, and various churches in our community do Chapel.
We also provide morning devotions for our residents if they attend.
So, these churches come from all over the county. They are also supporting Carriage Town ministries financially. I assume that you have. You do accept donations.
We have about 100 churches that support us financially.
Somebody wants to donate, and people aren't looking for old socks or, you know, old toothbrushes. What kind of donations would you accept, and where do you make those donations?
We accept all kinds of financial donations, and then we also take donations of anything new that could be used for people, from clothing to shoes. Then we do accept used items as well in as far as clothing and linens and towels.
And so, if somebody wants to donate to Carriage Town Ministries, how would they do that?
If you want to make a financial donation, you can visit our website, carriagetown.org, or drop by the office. Once you can, we are open on Wednesdays, and you can drop them off at our donation center.
The information is on our website as to where the location is, but we have a campus of two buildings and five houses, and it's right here on our campus.
As we spoke about earlier is highly collaborative in addressing homelessness issues, and apparently, it's been quite successful in its efforts. I recently learned about an effort made by Judge David Guinn, a 68th District Court judge. He has been working with the Genesee County Friend of the Court and some other partners to deal with homelessness and has started a specialty court that deals with this population.
In other words, if they're arrested on the street for doing the things I mentioned earlier, which are crimes, they might be brought in by the police—then taken in front of this particular judge. He has a whole bag of solutions or tools that might be brought to bear.
And because this is a special population, whether it's drugs or mental health, social work needs to be done in one way or another. What do you know about that program, and what has it been?
Effective so far. This is a new program in Flint. We are definitely in favor of this. We have seen success in the other specialty. The courts, so we have worked with Veterans Court. We have had veterans who have volunteered here at Carriage Town through Veterans Court. Mental Health Court has also been successful; we have had people who have volunteered here through mental health court.
So, I truly expect this will be a very effective way to do the court system.
And one of the articles I read, the friend of the court had begun to work to try to get rid of the warrants. Some of these people don't pay child support, and they do because of how the systems are run in Michigan.
It sets people up for being bankrupt without people going to bankruptcy court, and they're not waivable in bankruptcy because they simply have no means to pay. They have gone as far as to forgive some of this debt, if not all of it, to get people back into society because they've dropped out entirely.
So that's very promising.
Could Flint become Seattle or Portland? And I think the answer is that it's done everything it possibly could to make it not like Seattle.
I think that we have a good community collaboration to try to avoid those types of situations.
The last question I have for you deals with more global concerns. The overall economy of Flint with deindustrialization, the loss of employment, and so forth, and the transition to a different kind of economy is a factor in the homeless problem in Genesee County.
The loss of jobs over the years has been a problem that has perpetuated and caused homeless situations and the lack of, you know, as the industry moves out and jobs are unavailable. So, individuals need to retrain. I would think that that was kind of a driving force for our transitional employment program is to give an opportunity put to an individual to retrain and to come out of our program with experience in food services, so with the SERV Safe certificate experience and then move into a job that is now available because now there are quite a few jobs available and many of our residents are working.
Have you lived in the Flint community? Most of your Life?
What high school did you go to?
I went to McKinley, and so did he.
So, you were McKinley Falcon on top of all that.
Yes, let me ask you this. You know, there are a lot of people in Flint that refer to themselves as Flintstones.
Have you heard that before?
I assumed it just meant you were from Flint, so that's all I know.
No, I asked you a question, are you a Flintstone?
So, what's the term mean?
Is it just mean you're from Flint?
It derived from this group of boys that played young men that played at Michigan State University in 2001, the national championship, and the national media started this narrative about them and their town as being tough, resilient, hardworking, and they were winners. That's where the term started. Now the town is.
That as an identity, and you're the only one I've asked out of about 115 people that didn't say they were a Flintstone, unbelievable.
I just didn't know the term.
OK, so let me ask it again. Are you a flintstone?
I would say yes. I would say yes. I'm cut from that same resilient, hardworking stock.
Is that how you would describe the city, or would you use it?
In other words, in addition to that, I would probably use the word grit. You know Flint has struggled, but you know it's home. It is turning around is being successful. It's innovative. I see innovation coming in downtown Flint, so Flint is going to be prosperous.
And you're confident of that?
Cindy Johns, you are doing the Lord's work there at Carriage Town Ministry because you're taking the heart after 17 years; the admonition of the New Testament is to love your neighbor as yourself.
We think that everybody who comes through our doors is a special project of God, and therefore they are valuable.
That's the end of our show.