12/17/2013 02:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Homelessness a Matter of Life, Death in Upper Peninsula


What's got volunteer Robert Stevens worked up on the morning of the Mobile Food Pantry at the Luce County Community Resource and Recreation Center ("Link," for short) is not the insistent rain or the cold, it's the thought that the federal government might deepen the cuts to food assistance that have already fallen hard on families in his community.

"They have to realize that what they're doing is hurting families," Stevens says. "We're going to have a need for more food for people to survive a month."

Stevens knows about survival. In 1991, he moved with his family from Florida to Paradise, a village on the coast of Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, seeking a slower pace of life. After moving to Newberry in nearby Luce County, he began volunteering with Link, providing IT assistance and working with students at the drop-in center.

Then he ran into trouble.

"I ended up being homeless for two weeks," he says. Though he didn't want to discuss the details, Stevens revealed that this happened in November. In the Upper Peninsula, where temperatures can dip below freezing as early as September, homelessness can be a death sentence.

When Mary Archambeau, Link's director, found out about his situation, she connected Stevens with the right programs and secured housing for him, even helping him move his furniture.

Stevens continues to volunteer at Link, and at his church, where he plays the organ. "He's giving back now," Archambeau says.

"Things are going really well now," Stevens testifies. "I survived, and it's made me appreciate it more because any time you could lose it all."

Link is one of more than 1,200 food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters working with Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank to help those in need. At a time when public support for the poor is decreasing, it's all the more important for individuals to take responsibility for their neighbors' well-being.

"Newberry itself is like a brotherhood," Stevens says. People take care of each other.

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