120-year-old Marquette facility houses homeless

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MARQUETTE, Mich. (AP) — Adam Asleson, 45, has been sober for almost two years, but the path to recovery, which remains a daily battle, is complicated by the fact that he is homeless.

"I seem to be a person (that) -- I try and help everybody," Asleson reflected. "I guess I never really had that much help myself when I was growing up."

A temporary resident of the shelter at the Janzen House, Asleson returned to Marquette four months ago after spending about a year and a half in recovery in the Twin Cities, where he grew up. From 2006 to 2013, he also lived in Marquette, where he moved to help out a friend, he said.

"You don't find many places that people are willing to help," Asleson said. "Being raised in Minneapolis/St. Paul, you're just a speck of life down there. Here, at least you can see people trying to help as much as they can."

The Janzen House, a hotel built in 1893, was rebuilt and rededicated as a homeless shelter and transitional living facility after the building suffered a fire in 1983. It has 27 single occupancy rooms and five temporary beds in the shelter downstairs, The (Marquette) Mining Journal (http://bit.ly/1A5RCAm ) reported.

Rent for a room is $185 per month, which is the facility's biggest source of funding, according to Dan Lancour, the director for 19 years.

"All the stories I've seen at the Janzen House, it's unbelievable," Lancour said. "I think it should be a reality TV show."

Other sponsors of the Janzen House are United Way, the state, local volunteer agencies like the Kiwanis Club and the Marquette West Rotary, and the Marquette Downtown Development Authority, among others, Lancour said.

But funding is still meager and homelessness is on the rise in the Upper Peninsula, he said. Whereas 10 years ago, he had six to seven openings per month, for the last six years, he has run 95-100 percent full all the time, he said.

"Poverty," Lancour said simply, is the reason.

Lancour turns away an average of five people per month, he said -- which is why Asleson is staying in the shelter, where people can stay for up to 90 days. Asleson's three months is up in January.

One of seven children, Asleson was the sixth born to his mother and the only child of his father. Both alcoholics, his parents divorced the day he was born, he said. His mother died of colon cancer in 1989 and his father disappeared from his life. Asleson later found out he died in 2000.

But at some point, Asleson's mom did quit drinking.

"She was a drunk most of my life, but not all my life," he said. "(Then) we were a support system for each other: she'd keep me from drinking and I'd keep her from drinking ... I didn't want to end up like my mother. And look what happened, you know. But that's the thing, you can never say never."

After seeing his parents struggle with alcoholism, Asleson didn't touch a drop of alcohol before his mid-20s, he said. But the impulse was still there.

"I was always an alcoholic, just not always a practicing alcoholic," he said.

Asleson works maintenance about three hours a day at Valle's Village Market grocery store because the owner, Mike Valle, "has always been a compassionate person, as long as I've known him," Asleson said.

While committed to sobriety, every day still presents challenges, Asleson said.

"It's just my willingness to withdraw myself from (tempting) situations," he said. "I take the bus to work, but then I gotta walk home. I gotta walk by the Third Base (Bar), Stucko's (Pub & Grill), The Doghouse (Pub), Remie's (Bar), you know, so I'm not gonna lie to you, I've thought about going in there. But then I'm not gonna jeopardize where I live either."

While working and taking online courses in computer technology, Asleson is trying to save up money for the first month's rent and a security deposit, though it's hard to get ahead.

"I've got a good foundation, the Janzen House, friends that don't drink," he said. "But I can't tell you what the future brings ... There's a saying that I've heard that says, 'Yesterday's history, tomorrow's a mystery and today's a present and a gift.'"

Despite the three-month limit for the shelter, Lancour said he would never ask someone to leave who was on the right track. But tenants have to follow the rules: finish chores, no bullying, and no drugs or alcohol.

Lancour said the main causes of homelessness he sees are mental illness, unemployment and, the most prevalent, substance abuse.

"The trend that I see happening right now is, prescription drugs are horrible," Lancour said. "I'd like to see some of these other counties and communities do something or get their own facilities, or just something like the Room at the Inn. I mean, how many old buildings are sitting in these towns not being used?"

The Room at the Inn, a shelter and warming center open in winter months, has been a critical help with the overflow from the house, Lancour said.

"Because if we let the people out in this stuff here," Lancour said, pointing out the window at the wintry scene, "We're gonna have a bunch of ice cubes."

Lancour started in the field through Pathways Community Mental Health. He worked in an adult foster care home for eight years, which housed adults transitioning out of the psychiatric intensive care unit at the hospital, he said. But then the home closed.

"The ball's been dropped from what I can see," Lancour said. "I watched them cut the mental health industry right down to - you know, between taking houses away and cutting workers, obviously the funding is not there ... How do you fix it? It's so far gone, I don't know."

Besides the night manager, Lowell Miller, and the 15-member board of directors, Lancour is "basically the one man show" there, he said. Due to the demanding nature of the job, he'd like to see the house have its own social worker.

After Lancour became the Janzen House director, he said it took him about six years to finally get it into good running order.

"You have to be really motivated, because it will drag you down," he said. "And it has dragged me down, but at the same time, have I helped lot of people? I don't know about a lot, but I know I've helped some, and that keeps me going. Like Adam, here. Adam's doing really good -- besides his hanging the Christmas lights out there."

Lancour motioned to the trees outside the window and Asleson laughed.

"Well," Asleson said, "I wasn't in the mood to make it look like the Rockefeller Center."


Information from: The Mining Journal, http://www.miningjournal.net

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by The Mining Journal

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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