Growing up in Iowa, once a summer my dad would pack a tent, sleeping bags, and load up our camper which sat securely on the bed of my dad's pick- up truck. My mom would pack hot dogs to roast, and of course s'mores. We would then head off to a local campground on the shores of Saylorville Lake for an overnight adventure. We laughed as we burned marshmallows, and sometimes my mom even brought her guitar to play for us. This is all, thankfully, I knew of camping until I became an adult living in Northern Michigan.
My first year working as a domestic violence advocate in Northern Michigan I supported my clients the best I could helping them connect with resources, offering opportunities for empowerment, safety planning, and even attending court as their selected support person. I felt I was making a difference and was proud of my ability to offer support and connect my clients to resources, until the month of April happened. When April happened, I learned that many of my clients who had fled their abuser, secured a small, affordable rental for themselves and their children lost their rental homes. Their leases terminated. They had to leave, because it was the start of tourist season. Tourist season afforded local landlords a much higher, weekly return, on their rentals than the affordable monthly rent my clients paid. But where to go? The children enrolled in school, they the parent working (usually a service related job), meant they couldn't easily leave the area. As I scrambled to try and help, I learned this was the norm. These women and their children, in April, Northern Michigan, where there is likely still snow and freezing temperatures until mid-May, moved to campgrounds. Or, for some the campgrounds were too expensive, so they moved to state land to pitch their tents. They didn't even have the luxury of a camper on the back of a pick-up truck like I did for my fun summer adventure. They camped. The only roof available to put over their children's heads were canvas. They are forced to camp until the end of tourist season, late October after the color tour buses left the area. When these children start school in the fall, they have to get ready for their school day in a tent. They have to complete homework in a tent.I began calling April the Great April Migration, not great because it is good, but great because it involves hundreds of families.
People travel from all over the world to enjoy Good Morning America declared,"the most beautiful place in America" the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake shore in Northern Michigan, the hundreds of beautiful beaches on inland lakes and the shores of Lake Michigan. They travel to Northern Michigan to take winery tours, shop in wonderfully unique boutiques, and eat and award winning restaurants, all staffed by mothers and fathers who live out of a tent. These tourists are a blessing for all they bring to Northern Michigan in regards to financial windfall. The tourists are here to vacation and enjoy an adventure, while local families must endure their own camping adventure. These moms and dads use public restrooms to take sponge baths preparing for the day of school and work ahead. There are no s'mores, just prayers that the snow doesn't fall and torrential rains stay away. Imagine trying to focus in school for the day when you know you are headed back to your tent after school. Imagine trying to complete homework with a child with no table, and flashlights and lanterns for light.
As a community we must do better. I challenge us to do better. Every child deserves a roof of more than canvas over their head, and every child deserves to consider camping a time to make s'mores and gaze wistfully up at a star-filled sky. And every parent does deserve to raise their children in a place that is safe and secure.