Just a year ago, a forty-seven-year-old homeless man was found dead at a park-and-ride lot on Ann Arbor-Saline Road. While no one tracks the grim statistics, people in the homeless "business" say his fate was tragically typical: most winters, at least one local homeless person dies of exposure. How can this still happen twenty-five years after the founding of the Shelter Association, and five years after the opening of the state-of-the-art Delonis Center on Huron?
Director Ellen Schulmeister says the victims are usually hard-core alcoholics who are "really not functioning well enough to make good decisions." Though the fifty-bed Delonis Center is "dry," in cold weather the shelter opens a warming center that accepts active drinkers so long as they can blow 0.10 percent or less on a Breathalyzer. The room has chairs and blankets for fifty people, and any who fail the Breathalyzer test can sober up in the lobby. Yet even with shelter available, some people still shun institutional help-often, at the risk of their lives.
[Originally published in December, 2008.]