Noting progress, problems for Homeless Awareness Week

Guest column

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority is building on 50 years of advocacy and actions that enhance community and economic vitality through housing and historic preservation. They are mission-driven to develop new housing strategies to improve the quality of life for Michigan residents. They help by assisting those in need with housing, education and community resources to overcome housing insecurities, in addition to helping families and individuals overcome barriers to having a home to call their own.

In 2017, MSHDA’s Rental Housing production and preservation programs assisted approximately 6,000 people. By the end of fiscal year 2017, MSHDA financed new or renovated housing worth almost $200 million and created or preserved 3,365 units of affordable rental housing in 43 developments. MSHDA oversees the state’s federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program that allocated $28.6 million (Information quoted from MSHDA’s recently published “Making Michigan A Better Place to Live 2017 Program Guide Vol. l”).

According to information published in MSHDA’s “2017 Making Michigan A Better Place to Live 2017 Program Guide Vol. 1,” in 2016 Michigan witnessed an overall decline in homelessness statewide. All emergency shelters had a 7 percent decrease (38,719 in 2014, 36,719 in 2015 and 36,150 in 2016). Emergency shelter and safe havens experienced a 2 percent decrease and transitional housing witnessed a 35 percent decline. MSHDA works with local communities and teams to promote stable housing opportunities and confront the issues facing low-income residents across Michigan. By assisting those in need with housing, education and community resources, we remove barriers for families and individuals working to achieve a better tomorrow. For the Dickinson and Iron counties area, MSHDA works with Dickinson Iron Community Services Agency, the local planning group, the Housing Assistance Resource Agency (Community Action Alger Marquette) and all local service providers, in addition to Region I continuum of care.

The Region I CoC, chaired by Bonnie Pelto, meets by conference call monthly on the first Thursday of each month. The Dickinson-Iron County Local Planning Group, also chaired by Pelto, meets at the Dickinson County Library at 11 a.m. on the third Wednesday of the month and is always looking for new members who are interested in ending homelessness.

In 2016, 11 communities in Michigan were awarded $400,000 in grants to make high-impact neighborhood enhancement with MSHDA’s Housing Initiatives Program. MSHDA completed more than 150 community housing assessments to help cities and townships analyze local housing needs. The HOME program funded $9.8 million in grants to help communities rehabilitate and repair homes. The HOME program provides grants and/or loans to local units of government and nonprofits in order to provide homeowner rehabilitation and homebuyer assistance to income-eligible households.

The programs are designed to improve the principal residence of homeowners through rehabilitation of a home to full code and to expand homeownership opportunities through homebuyer assistance with acquisition, rehabilitation or new construction of single-family units. Neighborhood Enhancement grants are designed for high-impact and innovative neighborhood housing-oriented activities that benefit area residents. There are three eligible neighborhood components: beautification, neighborhood public amenity enhancements and infrastructure enhancements. The intent of the program is to support tangible, housing-focused activities that are implementation-ready and highly visible, with buy-in at the local level, including demonstrated support within the neighborhood.

The Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness has set aside Nov. 11 to Nov. 19 as Michigan Homeless Awareness Week. Pelto, as chairwoman of the Dickinson-Iron County Local Planning Group and Region 1 Continuum of Care, has written to the mayor and city manager of Crystal Falls, Iron River, Norway, Kingsford and Iron Mountain asking that they adopt a Homeless Awareness Week Proclamation. All five cities did so in 2016.

Do we have a problem with homelessness in Dickinson and Iron counties? The answer to that question is “yes.” Records maintained by the HARA for Dickinson-Iron counties reflects that between October 1, 2016, through Sept. 30, 2017, they screened 410 people for homeless assistance. These 410 were made up by 116 single individuals, 102 families, with a total of 192 children. In MSHDA’s recent publication “Ending Homelessness in Michigan 2016 Annual Report,” 8 percent were single parents, 23 percent are two-parent and 69 percent are other, primarily female- headed; 65 percent are under the age of 35 and 75 percent of the children were under age 11, with the average age being 7.

Unaccompanied youth reflected 12 percent are between 21 to 24 years old, 34 percent are between 18 to 20 years old and 54 percent are under the age of 18. The average length of time it took to house these unaccompanied youth was 49 days.