Guest Post: Immigration, Homelessness, and Sex Trafficking in Anywhere USA

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MCAH and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center will be hosting a webinar on Tuesday, March 21 on the basics of immigration policy, and what issues agencies should be aware when working with this extremely vulnerable population. Register online and click here for a guide of organizations across the state working on immigration rights.

Agriculture is predominant in our small rural community. Like most agricultural communities, we benefit from the migrant families who work the fields. While many migrant families return season after season, many also settle and find their home here. When I met Margaret*, she had traveled across the country after hearing she could find work on one of the farms. Upon her arrival with her three children she discovered that the migrant camp had been closed and she had nowhere to live with her children. She bought a tent where she and her children lived until the arrival of her husband.

Life got better when he arrived. They rented a trailer and commenced with their lives – until they needed a new furnace. The landlord refused. Their savings went to purchase a new furnace, but they never missed a rent payment nor were they compensated for the furnace. Numerous other issues surfaced but each was met with refusals, threats and the ultimate threat – “I will get you deported and you will never see your children again.” In addition to living with this fear, they lived in suboptimal conditions: the septic system was never emptied, only certain lights could be turned on for fear of blowing fuses, and the trailer was not fit for human habitation. But they were the fortunate ones, they had a roof over their heads.

The stories of dire living conditions are many, while affordable and decent housing is non-existent. The threat of deportation is real and used as emotional torture. We know these stories. But, even in our small rural communities, we need to recognize that threats don’t stop here. The fear of deportation is also used as leverage to perpetuate sex trafficking.

 

We often hear of savvy pimps in big cities that brainwash young girls and feed them drugs to create dependence. But sex trafficking can be as simple as threatening the loss of a home or deportation. Women and girls are transported from their homes to a larger nearby city and sold to local men to be raped. Then they are returned home to go back to being wives and mothers, until the next time and the next time.

Knowledge alone is not sufficient to put an end to this revolting behavior. The fear is real and the threats are easily carried out. Compound that with the fact that these women cannot report either the pimps or the rapists for fear of losing their home or being deported, and it is nearly impossible to save them. Success stories are few and far between. Sex-trafficking laws are changing dramatically. Immigration laws are in turmoil. Affordable and safe housing is in the distant future. Their hope lies in us.

The fight for legislation that significantly punishes those who sell another human being must continue. The fight to punish those who purchase another human being with the intent to rape must continue. Laws to protect those who are being sold into slavery must protect everyone. Assumptions about trafficked victims must be replaced with education.

Slowly the law is changing to acknowledge the fact that a child prostitute is not a criminal, nor is she a prostitute – she is a victim. In 2016 the number of reported sex trafficked victims in Michigan was 191. The average age of a trafficked female is 12.  It does not happen everywhere except here. It happens everywhere – even where you are. Human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise, second only to drugs.

To learn more visit: https://humantraffickinghotline.org/state/michigan.

*Margaret’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

Guest post by Theresa M. Bray, CEO/Executive Director of the Allegan County Community Foundation. You can contact her at: theresa.accf@gmail.com.

 

Guest Post: Why We Advocate

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MCAH is working to increase awareness around individuals experiencing homelessness and the agencies and shelters that serve them. We believe that our policy-makers, from local to state to federal, can make more informed decisions once they get to know a little more about the people we serve. As part of this effort, we asked the Homeless Action Network of Detroit (HAND) “Why do you advocate?” 


A few years ago, the Homeless Action Network of Detroit (HAND) partnered with the University of Detroit Mercy Theatre Group to sponsor a play, “Unheard Voices: Homeless Monologues.” The goal of the play was to present the voices, lives, visions, hopes, dreams, pains and spirits of the local homeless community on stage for the audience to recognize and acknowledge. Though visible to a community, those who find themselves seeking homeless services are a group of diverse individuals with various needs, abilities, and acuities who often are not acknowledged. As the lead agency for the Continuum of Care (CoC) serving Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park since 1996, HAND embraces the value of advocacy, particularly as an opportunity to give voice to those who would otherwise go unheard.

Advocating on behalf of the community we serve is crucial! If you do not demand it, people will assume you don’t need it.

Because advocacy is a priority and a necessity for the community, HAND annually participates in Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. By taking our local concerns to the larger policy making body, we can act as liaison between our community and key stakeholders who can assist us in ending homelessness in the Detroit CoC. As an outcome of our national and local advocacy efforts HAND is in the position to serve as the lead resource for advocacy; community organizing as well as policy analysis and education in our continuum. The opportunity to build relationships with legislators is vital to the success of HAND’s advocacy efforts.

In November 2016, Amelia Allen joined the HAND staff as the Continuum of Care Coordinator. Through the CoC Coordinator role, HAND has expanded its advocacy efforts to partner and support local citizen and consumer run initiatives who aim to address homeless service provision and inadequate resources. A few initiatives HAND is currently supporting are; increasing outreach efforts to engage and house those who are chronically homeless, promoting the relationship between City Council and local advocacy groups in establishing the Detroit Housing Trust Fund with special consideration for those who live at 0-30% Area Median Income (AMI), and connecting a consumer led advocacy group with the individuals who can affect shelter policy. By acting as a bridge for these consumer led and consumer focused organizations to other allies, HAND supports the National Association of Social Workers’ (NASW) values on dignity and worth of a client and importance of human relationships.

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Amelia Allen, HAND Continuum of Care Coordinator

Believing in the power of collective impact, HAND partners with several national organizations on policy priorities, including the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), and the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH). There are also several valuable state-level agencies which provide leadership, including the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness (MCAH), the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP), and the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM). As these organizations highlight issues that align with our policy priorities, HAND mobilizes the local response by informing, equipping, and empowering the membership of the Detroit CoC to join in the advocacy work.

Along with partnering with advocacy groups, in 2016 The Detroit Continuum of Care began to cultivate a Development and Communications committee of the Board. This committee’s aim is to plan for special events, including but not limited to Homeless Awareness Week events, coordinate publicity, seek out financial resources for any identified needs, and advocacy. The Detroit CoC also supports consumer based input and self-advocacy by inviting individuals who are currently or were formerly homeless to become members of the Board of Directors. The expertise offered by those who have lived experience as an individual facing homelessness in the system we wish to affect positive change in is intricate to shaping our perspective. Their guidance allows us to never forget the importance of advocacy, knowing firsthand how pivotal it is in the success of those who are living a life which is mirrored by their past.

Guest post by Amelia Allen, HAND Continuum of Care Coordinator. You can contact her at: amelia@handetroit.org

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