IRON MOUNTAIN - Representatives from local service agencies, churches, and law enforcement agencies gathered Tuesday at the First Covenant Church in Iron Mountain to figure out better ways to serve the homeless population in Dickinson and Iron counties.
"We're here to see what pieces are in our community already," said Chad Harrison, youth pastor at the Evangelical Covenant Church in Norway. "It's a starting point."
Already, Dickinson County has organizations like the Caring House, Salvation Army, Dickinson-Iron Community Services Agency (DICSA), churches, and more that provide housing, food, and utility assistance.
Representatives from each organization agreed that they face common challenges.
One of those challenges is funding.
Caring House Executive Director Cheryl O'Neil said that there have been funding cuts in homeless assistance at the federal and state levels.
Lisa Justice of the Caring House added that the annual budget for motel vouchers for homeless people in both Dickinson and Iron counties is only $1,000.
"They're really only for people who are freezing, sleeping in the streets," she said. "If they have absolutely nowhere else to rest their heads."
Both Harrison and Salvation Army Director Tara Blagec suggested that agencies coordinate so they can cover each other's funding shortages.
"If we exhaust state resources first, then private organizations like churches can step in with more assistance," said Harrison.
Another challenge is duplication of services.
Several representatives told stories of needy people going from one agency to the next and collecting many times the amount of food or money they should have received. This practice deprives other needy people of their fair share, representatives added.
O'Neil said that communication between agencies, having one point of entry into the system, and focusing more on case management instead of one-time assistance could help alleviate the problem.
A final challenge that was addressed was after hours assistance.
According to Harrison, other areas of the Upper Peninsula use a rotating schedule of agencies that are open for assistance on nights and weekends. Perhaps Dickinson and Iron counties could use the same system, he proposed.
Anyone who is interested in obtaining more information can attend the local homeless housing workgroup's next meeting at Northpointe on April 17 at 2:15 p.m.
Nikki Younk's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.