czb's housing study in Midland creates awareness of need for affordable housing

By John Kennett

Feb 17, 2018 | Original Article

For decades, one of Midland’s most regrettable secrets has been its homeless population.

“Yes there is an issue in Midland County,” said Nancy Money, executive director of Midland Area Homes (MAH). “And it’s an unknown issue to many people because they don’t know it exists. The issue is more than just homelessness; it’s housing stability, which goes along with homelessness. The problem is here. It’s not going away and we need to address it.”

Try telling somebody without a warm place to stay on a cold, winter night that there is not a homeless problem in Midland.

“People that are experiencing housing instability realize it and know about it. In big cities, you see people sitting on corners asking for money. You don’t see that in Midland where it is very hidden. So, people don’t perceive it as an issue here,” Money said.

Yes, the problem exists, but the community has many resources to alleviate the problem.

“Midland does have homelessness issues, but the exciting thing is there is a lot of effort and a lot of people that are putting time and energy and resources into helping the needs in the community,” said Midland Director of Planning and Community Development Grant Murschel.

HUD defines homeless as “An individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. …”

“Homeless in Midland County looks like, people that are doubled up, living in uninhabitable places or in their car, or in a place not fit for human habitation,” Murschel said.

Point in Time is the method used to calculate the homeless population in a particular county.

Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness defines Point-in-Time “as a snapshot of those who are homeless, in a shelter, or on the street during one night.”

Taken once a year, during the last week in January, Point in Time helps the county and state estimate the homeless population.

“It’s a snapshot of homelessness in our community,” Money said. “Winter is a strange time to do it. In the summer there are probably a lot more people.”

As the focal point in the community for homelessness, Midland Area Homes relies on various agencies to submit information for the Point-in-Time count. But, the overall population can only be an estimate. So, to fill in the gaps and obtain a more accurate count, MAH has begun sending teams out at night in an attempt to locate homeless people.

“This count gives us an idea of who is living on the streets that maybe we are not reaching with shelters and other resources,” said Tara Pummell, MAH housing resource specialist and Saginaw Valley State University intern. “It helps us identify needs and helps us prepare better services for individuals and families along with giving us leverage to apply for grant monies.”

Wednesday, Jan. 31, was the last time that MAH gathered volunteers to seek out area homeless. One group, which included Daily News photographer Katy Kildee, and this reporter, ran across two females in a car parked by the Trilogy Skate Park. In the rear seat was a little baby.

The two females agreed to take a five-minute confidential survey to help determine homeless needs in the community. The survey included questions such as: If they had a safe place to stay the previous night and also the current night?

The females claimed they had a house to stay the previous evening and also that particular evening. But stated that they had experienced homelessness two to three times in the past. Upon discussion later that night back at MAH, it didn’t make sense that on a cold, winter night, the pair would be out in an automobile with a little baby.

“If they are staying in a car and have a child, they probably will not tell you that they’re homeless because they have to self-report and technically CPS has to be called,” Pummell told the group of volunteers before leaving MAH. “You can suspect them, but you have to go based on what they tell you.”

To provide centralized intake and housing assessment for the homeless, the state of Michigan has designated a Housing Assessment and Resource Agency (HARA) in each county. In Midland County that agency is Midland Area Homes, which fields more than 1,600 calls per year regarding housing issues.

“For those people living in cars or other places, it’s important for them to know that MAH is the place they need to go and get engaged with,” Murschel said. “Then if they need an overnight shelter, they can use the Open Door or Shelterhouse.”

Each individual HARA employs staff members that function as housing resource specialists, who work very closely with shelters like Midland’s Open Door and Shelterhouse.

“One of our staff members goes to those places once a week to directly work with the homeless and try to place them,” Money said. “When we provide services we also provide case management. Everybody is on a housing plan, so it is more than just helping financially and getting them in somewhere.”

Using the Housing First model, MAH first addresses barriers to stable housing with a client.

“Is it employment? Sometimes it’s documentation, a birth certificate or Social Security,” Money said. “We have the capacity of working with them for several months to make sure they get these things taken resolved.”

Sustainable income for a homeless person can be a major factor in obtaining stable housing.

“Ultimately that is the goal, making sure that they have the avenues to pursue a housing plan to get them into a situation where they have safe and stable housing for the long term,” Murschel said.

Midland County has long experienced a lack of awareness that has hindered obtaining stable housing for the area’s homelessness.

Currently, czb LLC is in the process of conducting a housing study to assess the need for affordable housing in Midland County. The results of that study are due any day now, stated Murschel.

“I think our goal is to create an awareness of the need for affordable housing in the community and to have a better understanding of what that need is. We’re looking for the study to provide us that information and as a group to identify some solutions,” Money said. “Once the housing study comes out, then there will be a real push in our community to make people aware of the situation.”