Beneath an overpass, the group gathered. The camp was eerily quiet, aside from the occasional passing of a car overhead, as the students had a firsthand look at the living conditions of the city's homeless.
Blankets and towels were hung below the bridge. Shards of broken glass, much of it from alcohol bottles, sat next to the students' feet. Tattered clothes, cans and shoes were half-buried in dirt, appearing as if they had been repeatedly trampled on. Behind the group were the remnants of a chair that had been burned to the frame.
But this was nothing, said Scott Myers, a graduate of the Life Recovery Program at the Haven of Rest Ministries. In fact, he said, this homeless camp was cleaner than most.
Myers led the nursing students as they walked from the nonprofit's headquarters to the camp. The Western Michigan University students went to the camp as part of a population-based nursing class. They also visited another homeless camp across the street, where a tent was hidden in shrubs.
The Haven is a faith-based nonprofit located in Battle Creek that has provided shelter and care to the homeless for the past 50 years. Daniel Jones, the group's fund development coordinator, said the Haven regularly coordinates tours for students to visit homeless camps.
Frank Hopkins, a Life Recovery Program graduate who accompanied the students on the tour, said there is a difference between homelessness and seeing it firsthand. The experience will offer a new perspective for the students and help them better care for the homeless in their future careers, he said.
Hopkins said he hopes the experience will offer a new perspective for the students and help them better care for the homeless in their future careers.
"Whether you are rich, middle class, homeless," he said, "you still get sick."
Nursing student Erin Bluth, 24, grew up in Battle Creek. The Lakeview High School graduate said she knew the city, like others, struggled with homelessness. But visiting the camp "adds a whole new dimension to the people you care for," she said.
Bluth, now a Delton resident, said knowing some of a patient's background is essential to providing care. She said she thinks the experience will help her better serve those when she becomes a nurse. Bluth graduates in less than 40 days.
"You have to know where they come from and where they're going," Bluth said.
Last year, there were more than 1,400 people who were homeless in the Battle Creek area and more than 70,000 throughout the state, according to data from Michigan's Campaign to End Homelessness.
— BY JENNIFER BOWMAN, Battle Creek Enquirer (AP)