A Guide to Hope means giving back

Mar. 19—TRAVERSE CITY — Harley Vance said her goal is simple — to help people.

After finding herself on the streets last summer, she sought help from the Goodwill Inn, and strived to make a home for her and her son until they could move somewhere more permanent to live.

"The place I was living was really expensive, and I just couldn't afford it," Vance said. "So I became homeless."

According to local rental market data, Vance is not alone. In 2022, the average rent price of a two-bedroom apartment was $1,009. Based on this data, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) prices in Grand Traverse County are higher than 92 percent of the state.

Vance said she understands all too well the issues that the unhoused face in Traverse City because, just a few short months ago, she was right alongside them.

In 2019, Michigan estimated that 61,832 people were experiencing homelessness statewide. The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated that 211 were living in Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Antrim counties.

Churches and organizations band together to provide shelter at night or during the day for those experiencing homelessness, but Vance said there seemed to be one underlying gap that no one was fixing: transportation.

The average time it takes to walk from Safe Harbor, which provides a place to sleep during the winter months, to Jubilee House, a day shelter, is 8 minutes.

To get to the Father Fred Foundation, which distributes clothing and other essentials, it's another 1.5 miles from the day shelter.

That's where Vance comes in.

She said a couple of the challenges for those who are homeless is getting to appointments on time, and maximizing all of the resources available in Traverse City.

Without reliable transportation, Vance said, it can be easy for people to miss healthcare appointments, meetings with probation officers and checking in for the day or evening shelters. That, ultimately, makes the likelihood of transitioning out of homelessness even more daunting.

As a way to resolve that, earlier this year, Vance started a new organization — A Guide to Hope — to provide transportation for those who need it most.

"I started 'A Guide to Hope' because I wanted to give back," she said. "I have become close with a lot of the homeless people as I've volunteered, and just by being there."

So far, Vance said, she has given rides to dozens of clients in Traverse City, and driven people as far away as Charlevoix so they can get to their appointments on time.

"They're no different than us, other than they've been through their own trauma and they don't have their own homes," Vance said.

One of Vance's closest friends and clients is Leo Oram.

Oram was born and raised downstate, but has been moving around the country for as long as he can remember.

With nothing but the clothes on his back and, occasionally, some cash in his pocket, Oram has walked from Michigan to Florida and back again, with a few stops on the way.

He settled in Traverse City just before the first snowfall this year. He wanted to be in the same place as his brother and thought: Why not northern Michigan?

As Vance listened, Oram spoke of focusing on going to doctor's appointments and utilizing services while he's here in town. But he said he cannot imagine it without Vance's help and friendship.

"It's amazing what she's doing here," he said, "how she's been helping us out."

When Oram spoke of where he might end up next, Vance responded with a loud gasp. "You can't leave me yet!" she said as he cracked a big smile and chuckled softly.

In the future, Vance said she wants to establish a shelter of her own that can be open year-round, and give back to a community she once belonged to herself.

"Everybody deserves a roof over their head and a warm meal," she said. "You know, just because you're homeless doesn't mean you're not somebody."

Vance is planning a fundraiser at 1 p.m. April 5 at Open Space to raise money for backpack bedrolls for those who are experiencing homelessness.