Jun. 18—TRAVERSE CITY — Thomas "Tommy" Johnson was a familiar face among the area's unsheltered community, a man who acquaintances said liked rock and roll, could get pretty rowdy, yet had a kind soul.
"I do remember when he had a housing voucher and was able to have his own little apartment off of Zimmerman," said Derrick Smith, who met Johnson several years ago when Smith was working at Dann's House.
"When I saw him recently, I hadn't seen him in at least a year and a half," Smith recalled. "He told me about losing his housing voucher and having to live in the woods behind Goodwill Inn."
On Thursday, Johnson, 53, died at Munson Medical Center from injuries he received after being stabbed during an altercation near Keystone Road.
A 65-year-old man was in custody as a suspect facing open murder charges, law enforcement officials said.
Police have not released the name of the man taken into custody but confirmed he is being lodged in Grand Traverse County's jail pending arraignment.
Capt. Randy Fewless, of Grand Traverse Sheriff's detective bureau said Friday the weapon was believed to be a "sharp cutting instrument" and that an autopsy was being performed in Kalamazoo by Western Michigan University pathology staff.
"It's a very sad situation," said Ryan Hannon, Goodwill Inn's street outreach coordinator on Friday. "We're supporting the community here with counselors on site. The police assured us there is no danger to anyone else."
Authorities said officers and emergency medical personnel responded to a property adjacent to the Goodwill Inn at about 6 p.m.; investigators were in the process of conducting interviews Friday.
Hannon said response by the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Department was swift and that counselors from Catholic Social Services were on hand at the Goodwill Inn to provide support to guests.
"This kind of violence is rare," Hannon said. "Yet people experiencing homelessness are much more susceptible to violent crime than the general population. Even with our best efforts, that's the reality. Our guests are dealing with this every day."
Smith recalled giving Johnson rides to and from his job at a local car wash several years ago, when Johnson was living at Dann's House, a nonprofit that provides housing for those chronically unsheltered who also have persistent alcohol use disorder.
Smith said Johnson told him that after using alcohol, he'd lost his housing voucher, which had been funded through a program with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The news, Smith said, was upsetting.
"I feel is absolute bullshit tying his SUD (substance use disorder) with making him homeless," Smith said. "Housing first initiatives need to be in place to keep people from living on the street."
Smith now works for Harm Reduction Michigan, a statewide nonprofit healthcare organization. On Friday, he and other outreach workers were out in the woods along Keystone Road, helping to clean up several campsites along the Boardman River.
Smith said the last time he saw Johnson was about two months ago. The two men chatted for a few minutes, then Johnson held out his arms and lifted his shirt.
"He was showing me knife wounds on his arm and side from altercations back in those same woods," Smith said.