SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. (WJMN) – Since 2020, one man has been building a movement in the Eastern Upper Peninsula. The mission is for neighbors to help neighbors. The group Dean O’Brien started has become a non-profit organization. The next step is to bring a homeless center to the Eastern U.P.
When O’Brien first started the Yooper Do-Gooders Facebook group, he had a homeless center in mind. By January of 2022, there were more than 5,000 members of the group when the Do-Gooders became a non-profit. The organization has blossomed a year later with more than 7,500 members. The non-profit side expanded to an 8-member board. For Dean O’Brien,the last six months have really picked up the pace.
To open a homeless center, you need a building. O’Brien has one in mind, which is located in Sault Ste. Marie. He said it would cost $250,000 to buy the building outright, which will allow the organization to have more control over what goes into the property.
To do that, a GoFundMe page was started. Numerous fundraisers are planned over the coming months including a virtual 5K run, and multiple raffles. Those will be shared in the Yooper Do-Gooders Facebook group. O’Brien also plans to reach out personally to potential donors. He said the goal is to have the money raised by October.
Once purchased, the building will need to be rezoned. The goal would be to have 25-50 beds, with each person having their own room. The center will have a side for men and women. There will be several larger rooms on the women’s side to accommodate children.
Along with housing, O’Brien’s vision for the space includes a community kitchen, food pantry, coat closet and a professional clothing closet.
“We’ve got volunteers that are RN’s, doctors and counselors that want to volunteer their time to come in and talk to people. We’ve also got a lady from Michigan Works that’s going to come in and help them with computers to find jobs, help them with resume’s.” O’Brien continued, “We also want to try and get a daycare in there.”
Plans also include four classrooms which will be used by guests of the center and the public for education on topics like home maintenance, cooking, parenting.
The center will be open to people in Luce, Mackinac and Chippewa Counties, as well as overflow from the northern Lower Peninsula.
O’Brien said he has received nothing but support for the project from local government. “We went and got recognized as a 501 (c)(3) through St. Ignace, which went through with flying colors. Not one no in the whole bunch. Then we went up to the Soo, talked to them, and got recognized as a 501 (c)(3). Everyone was a yes. When I told them about putting in a homeless shelter, they were all about that.”
On top of planning for a homeless center and running the Facebook group, O’Brien still has a full-time job. When asked how he keeps the energy to take on all of these projects, O’Brien said he relies on his faith to carry him through.
“I go to bed and say my prayers. I can be exhausted. I can go from my job to another job helping somebody fix something, then get home at 8 or 9 o’clock at night. I’ll lay down in bed and I’m exhausted. The next morning, he refreshes me. There’s a psalm that says that, every morning I will refresh you. He does that. He refreshes me and I’m ready for the day.”
Once the center opens, O’Brien plans to make that his permanent residence.
“I’m going to be the guy that admits you. I’m going to cook for you every day, We’ll have sandwiches and things in the morning and afternoon, but I’m going to do a dinner every night. I love to cook, it’s my hobby. So this is going to be perfect for me.”
The goal of the center would be to take guests through a 30-90 day program with a goal of getting people back on their feet. O’Brien said he’s been approached by apartment complexes that will take people who complete the programs and provide a place to live as a next step.
Alcohol and drugs will not be allowed on the premises. Guests will not be admitted if they have an active warrant.