It’s Time to Take Action for Michigan’s Homeless

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2017 is quickly becoming the year of advocacy as federal and state policies are spurring people to take action around causes they hold most dear. But as we organize to protect immigrants, refugees, religious minorities and others, another group closer to home remains vulnerable.

More than 600 service providers and agencies across Michigan serve the homeless. In today’s world of complex regulations and requirements, decision-makers are often called on to enact policy that impact the homeless population, often with limited knowledge of our work and our clients. MCAH hopes to overcome that knowledge gap.

Together with our new Legislative Action Committee, we are launching a series of activities that will connect homelessness advocates, agencies and those who have experienced homelessness personally to the legislators who represent them.advocacy-day-2On March 2 we will begin this work with our Homelessness Advocacy Day. This is our opportunity to meet with state legislators to educate, provide resources and ultimately influence better policy for this vulnerable population. Through our Legislative Action Committee, MCAH has identified five policy priorities which we believe provide real opportunities for education and policy change.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Individuals experiencing homelessness face unique obstacles accessing good, affordable housing. Communities may lack the number of necessary units, landlords can refuse to rent to these individuals and families, or the cost may be prohibitive. This can leave some with few housing options other than shelters or the street.

STATE IDS

Having a state-issued photo ID can open a lot of doors for services when homeless. Unfortunately, many of these individuals do not have an ID or the documentation necessary to receive one. In a recent study conducted by MCAH, 92 agencies across the state reported assisting an average of 552 clients a month who were seeking an ID. Though there are programs and resources to aid in this process, they are not statewide or funded fully to meet the needs of this many clients.

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Eric Hufnagel, MCAH Executive Director, speaks before the House Elections and Ethics Committee about state-issued IDs for homeless individuals in 2016.

DECRIMINALIZATION OF HOMELESSNESS

Being homeless can make you a target. Individuals who are homeless are often victims of physical violence, subject to city ordinances that make asking for money or sleeping in public illegal, and face additional scrutiny from the police and criminal justice system. Often, this vulnerable population doesn’t receive the protection necessary to keep them safe while they seek new housing opportunities.

FUNDING FOR HOMELESS SERVICES

Federal and state monies go a long way towards helping the agencies who serve homeless individuals. But this funding often falls short of providing the beds, extensive services, medical care and more that are required to truly meet needs. Protecting existing funding resources and providing new funding is necessary to make the long-term and permanent solutions we need to end homelessness in our state.

MEDICAID/MEDICARE AND MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

Individuals experiencing homelessness disproportionately suffer from mental illness and physical disability. All too often, jail or the emergency room are the best option for receiving medical care. Michigan expanded its Medicaid program in 2013, and between then and 2015 we saw a 51% increase in enrollment just among those who reported being homeless. Federal attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act or cut funding for health services would cause unnecessary hardships for these individuals, and many more.

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Advocacy is long and tiring work – especially during uncertain political times – but MCAH is here for the long-run. We hope that you will join us. There are many ways for you to become involved in MCAH’s advocacy efforts, from receiving regular communications to actively participating in our advocacy events. Please consider joining our efforts by:

  • Joining the mailing list for our Public Policy Newsletter, which includes action alerts, opportunities to get involved, and more.
  • Participating in our monthly Legislative Action Committee calls. For more information, contact Laurel Burchfield at lburchfield@mihomeless.org.
  • Attending our Advocacy Day on March 2 for a chance to discuss these priorities with your legislator. Register online at http://bit.ly/MCAHAdvocacyDay2017.
  • Following us on Facebook and Twitter (@mihomeless) for up to date news on homelessness issues in Michigan and around the country.

 

Why we do a count of Michigan’s homeless every January

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This week communities across the country will participate in an annual event called the Point-in-Time (PIT) Count. Every January, volunteers and staff go out into the cold on a designated night and do a manual count of the individuals and families who are living in shelters or on the street.

Agencies plan for weeks, recruiting and training volunteers, marking  areas most likely to have individuals living on the street, gathering items—such as toiletries, sanitary products, prepackaged food, socks, blankets and more—that can be shared in ‘goodie bags,’ and creating plans for how best to collect information on who exactly is experiencing homelessness in their communities.

The need for data regarding the prevalence of homelessness in our communities is clear and far-reaching. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) facilitates this count and collects data for a national report. Congress and the President utilize this data to make important decisions on federal funding and programming. It informs local needs and serves as an important snapshot for community leaders, media and service providers regarding who is experiencing homelessness.

However, it is just a snapshot. As Michigan participates in the PIT Count this week, it is important to note the other data collection process that occurs year-round. The Michigan Statewide HMIS Project, administered by the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness and used by over 600 agencies in the state, collects extensive data that is featured in this annual report.

So why do both?

Here in Michigan we are fortunate enough to have a sophisticated process through HMIS that gives us large amounts of data on our homeless population. Much of the rest of the country falls behind Michigan in our ability to count and analyze their data. The PIT Count thus becomes the best national tool we have for counting individuals experiencing homelessness on any given night and allows us to report consistent national numbers.

Further, we aren’t simply counting individuals on this night; we’re also counting the number of beds within multiple housing types. This reveals insight into a community’s housing stock and whether or not there are the correct number of beds to meet demand.

Perhaps more importantly, the PIT Count is personal. It requires that dedicated volunteers go out into their communities and interact with individuals experiencing homelessness. For some communities without the financial resources to conduct street outreach, this may be the only time that this engagement can occur. A human connection is created when volunteers can give those ‘goodie bags’ and share information about additional available services. Oftentimes, media are invited to capture the personal stories and experiences of those living on the street.

It can be easy to forget that those who huddle inside blankets, under bridges, and on street corners are part of our community and have their own stories to tell. The PIT Count is just one opportunity to recognize the humanity of those we otherwise neglect. And to do so in January, in the heart of Michigan’s deadly winter, adds an urgency to solving the problem of homelessness and helping those who lack adequate housing.

Gerry Leslie, HMIS Project Director, knows first-hand the value of the PIT Count. “When I began work in homeless services the PIT Count was the activity I participated in on my very first day. It showed that those experiencing homelessness were just like me.”

What is your experience with the annual PIT Count? Do you volunteer? How does your community participate? We want to hear your Michigan stories. Comment below or email Laurel at Lburchfield@mihomeless.org to share.

What does it mean to be homeless, queer and young?

The following is a guest blog post from MCAH Resource & Community Development Specialist, Cameron Paxton.

LGBTQ stands for, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer and has become a buzzword for policy of late. These populations have been particularly marginalized in Western Society in the last century. With the recent change in marriage laws, some may well believe that LGBTQ populations are doing just fine. However that is not the case, particularly amongst the young and homeless.

I went to school with a boy who lost his home when he came out as gay, and as someone from a small town, it makes me worry about the multitudes that experience this across the nation.

A person’s social connections are some of the most influential factors in determining quality of life. Someone who has strong family and friend ties, have less worries about becoming destitute. They are more likely to find someone who knows of a job opening or to receive support in times of great need. If someone is alienated from family support and lack any sort of external aid, say friends with well paying jobs or a place of their own, it is quite easy to become homeless.

The most weakly connected members of society are typically Children. At most they may have completed high school, thus their employment prospects remain slight, and their social relations are mostly limited to those in their own situation, children, and their family.

This is the difficulty of students/children coming out as homosexual or transgendered. It goes beyond just wanting parental love and approval, but of the reality of how they will survive.

Continuums of Care from one study reported at least 29% of the homeless youth identify as LGBTQ and of those numbers the major cause for being homeless was being forced or running away from home due to being LGBTQ. This is much higher than the assumed average number of LGBTQ individuals in the population of adults (3.5%) or of youths (7-8%). If you believe that someone couldn’t kick a child out of their home because of their sexual orientation do a quick Google search. Several videos have gone viral, surrounding this topic and show the abuse someone can face from a parent when they come out.

Again this is an already vulnerable population with an unsuitable network to rely on. This is why youths who come out as homosexuals and are kicked out/ decide to run away are one of the most likely segments of the population to become homeless.

I don’t believe that someone should put forth an issue without at least positing some sort of method to improve the situation so I will advise, until as a society, we decided that kicking children out of the home because of their sexual orientation is illegal, donate to your local LGBTQ youth shelters. Make sure that these kids have a bed to sleep in. And if you don’t have a local LGBTQ youth shelter, maybe think about creating one.

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Cameron Paxton

Resource & Community Development Specialist

cpaxton@mihomeless.org

MCAH Executive Director Leads Capitol Hill Day Visits

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Earlier this month, MCAH Executive Director, Eric Hufnagel, was in Washington, D.C. for the National Conference on Ending Homelessness. During his trip, he and other homelessness advocates from Michigan visited with Michigan’s elected officials and their staff members, here are his thoughts from the visits.

Capitol Hill Day visits. Within the context a high school field trip to Washington, D.C. it seems kind of cool. Within the context of education/advocacy, it takes on a much a heavier and intimidating character — a level of discomfort that comes with traveling into the unknown.

Huh…really?! Well, that may be overstating it a bit but, for most, the idea of sitting down with an elected official to discuss the issue of homelessness (or any issue for that matter) DOES make them uncomfortable.

For many years, the National Alliance to End Homelessness has encouraged and facilitated meetings with members of Congress in conjunction with its annual summer conference. After all, when you have 1,400 people in attendance from around the country, doesn’t it make sense to encourage folks to touch base and share information with their elected officials?

I’ve had the opportunity to Co-Captain the Michigan delegation visits over the past several years, including this year’s Capitol Hill Day.

Making scheduled visits in teams of two or more, folks from Michigan encounter various receptions and reactions, varying widely based on the number of terms in office, committee assignments, personal background, elected official or staff, and political persuasion, etc.

Common “take-aways” include the value of sharing local stories — humanizing the issue and putting it into the context of the district back home. Helping policy makers gain insight into the issue of homelessness is the key to fostering informed public policy.

The folks we met with – elected officials and/or their staff members – typically had an interest in the issue. Quite often, though, there wasn’t a grasp of the scope of the issue or the wide range of precipitating factors, nor an understanding of how the issue of homelessness is being addressed back in their home districts.

It’s incumbent upon all of us, whether as individuals or as representatives of human service providers or other community stakeholders, to know what’s happening on the ground and to share that knowledge with those individuals who have been elected to serve our communities.

For more information about MCAH’s public policy and advocacy efforts, click here.

Eric Hufnagel

Eric Hufnagel

Executive Director

ehufnagel@mihomeless.org

What is homelessness?

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We hear about homelessness, shelters and housing service many times. We see hobos holding “need help” boards standing on streets many times. We call them homeless people. But what is homelessness exactly?

The formal definition is easy enough to understand: an individual who lacks housing (without regard to whether the individual is a member of a family), including an individual who is either sheltered homeless — using emergency or transitional housing and unsheltered homeless — living on the streets or in parks, abandoned buildings, cars, subway tunnels or other places not meant for human habitation.

Chronic homelessness occurs when people have long or repeated episodes of homelessness, such as living continuously in a shelter for one year or or on at least four separate occasions in the past three years.

An individual may also be considered to be homeless if that person is “doubled up” with friends or relatives or who reside in transient or non-transient motels and hotels. Many of these people experience literal homelessness temporarily. In addition, previously homeless individuals who are to be released from a prison or a hospital may be considered homeless if they do not have a stable housing situation to which they can return. A recognition of the instability of an individual’s living arrangements is critical to the definition of homelessness.

The HEARTH Act defined the homeless as “an individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” including not only the sheltered and unsheltered homeless, but also those who will “imminently lose their housing,” have no subsequent residence identified, and lack the resources or support network to obtain permanent housing. The HEARTH Act, which also included an expanded definition of homelessness for unaccompanied youth and families with children and youth, called for federal agencies to examine the feasibility of adopting a unified definition of homelessness.

We Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness (MCAH)  is a Michigan nonprofit organization formed as an association of emergency shelters, transitional housing programs, nonprofit housing and service programs, government programs and concerned citizens from across the state. Our goal is to be the leading advocate for homeless people in Michigan and the agencies who serve them.

Join us in making a difference, now!!!

 

Website: http://mihomeless.org

Facebook: Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness

Twitter: @mihomeless

 

Resources: http://www.nhchc.org/faq/official-definition-homelessness/

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