Why Michigan Should Care About Federal Funding for Housing

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As Congress prepares its budget for the next fiscal year, MCAH and our state partners felt it was crucial for the public to be aware of potential cuts to programs that house the homeless and keep families in their homes. Our July 26 rally and storytelling event, “How Housing Changed My Life” brought Michiganders to Lansing to tell their true stories of homelessness. Now we hope these stories will reach our elected officials.

It’s often the human aspect that gets left behind when it comes to federal funding. Slashing and cutting items on a budget is easier to do when you cannot physically see the impact it will have on people’s lives. But it’s hard to ignore the personal impact when it’s staring you in the face. 

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Crystal Robinson of Detroit speaks to the crowd with three of her children standing next to her on the Michigan Capitol steps. Photo by Healther Nash, Washtenaw Housing Alliance.

On July 26, ten speakers stood on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol for the ‘How Housing Changed My Life’ rally and told their stories of homelessness and of the many federal programs that helped them get into affordable housing. Each storyteller had the same request for Congress – to continue funding the programs that can grant low-income individuals and families access to the American dream: a safe and stable home. The rally was one of over thirty events that took place across the country during the National Housing Week of Action (July 22-29) to motivate and educate the public on the importance of these essential government programs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) .

HUD plays a vital role in implementing and maintaining programs that have helped millions of people access housing. Many misconceptions surround HUD’s programming and their importance to recipients. While it may be known as a housing agency, this is not the only focus of its many programs. HUD also subsidizes that housing, funds homelessness prevention and re-housing programs, and distributes annual grants issued for revitalizing neighborhoods, economic development, and improving facilities and services in the community. Many of these programs are intended for low- and moderate-income households. 

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Another common myth around HUD is that its beneficiaries rely too heavily on the government, which discourages them from working hard. The facts are that in 2016 in Michigan only 1-2% of households that participated in HUD programming such as Public Housing or Housing Choice Vouchers had the majority of their income come from welfare. The rising cost of rent in many cities is being identified as a national crisis, with a growing number of households unable to afford a modest 2-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent with their minimum-wage income. Over 5 million low-income households use federal rental assistance, and 89% of those households include children or people who are elderly or disabled. 

So how do we as advocates make sure our government sees the good that HUD programs are able to do for our communities? It’s hard to put into perspective what these budget cuts would mean by simply looking at numbers on a screen. But let’s try to showcase just how many Michigan families would be hurt by cuts to housing services.

HUD, like many other federal agencies, came under fire with the release of the Administration’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018. Under this proposal, HUD could face cuts of $6.8225 billion dollars in comparison to the previous year’s budget. The state of Michigan alone could be looking at a $222,081,806 decrease in funding, which could impact an estimated 24,142 households living in public housing per year and could remove housing choice vouchers for 7,061 families. These vouchers assist low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford safe and accessible housing in the private market.

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The most at-risk populations in this country would be severely impacted by any budget cuts. That includes the 66,483 total people in 2016 who experienced or were at risk of homelessness in Michigan, including 14,472 children and unaccompanied youth, and 3,952 veterans.

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The House and Senate have now released their proposed budgets, which are more promising than the Administration’s but still lack the necessary funding to keep up with our current and growing need. Putting into consideration the sheer number of people struggling to escape or prevent homelessness under the current amount of federal funding, to even suggest putting people at further risk by slashing these programs is irresponsible and dangerous.

There’s still time for us to make a difference though. The next steps with regards to the 2018 budget are for the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees to come up with a budget resolution before being either signed or vetoed by the president. Which means that your members of Congress still need to hear from you about why funding for housing programs needs to become a priority.

To learn more about the importance of HUD, the proposed federal budget for FY2018 and how you can make an impact:

By Nick Kipper, Communications & Public Policy Intern at Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. You can contact him at: commintern@mihomeless.org

 

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Invisible People and Authentic Storytelling

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Nick Kipper is the new Communications and Public Policy intern at MCAH. In his first week, he attended the Breakfast of Champions and digital storytelling workshop with Mark Horvath and walked away with a new appreciation for how to share the stories of those experiencing homelessness.

“Homelessness isn’t sexy unless it’s Thanksgiving.”

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Mark’s speech at MCAH’s Breakfast of Champions

As an intern experiencing my first week working for a nonprofit like MCAH, I was taken aback by Mark Horvath’s words while speaking at the Breakfast of Champions. Turning the other cheek or simply walking past someone experiencing homelessness without acknowledging them is something we have all been guilty of at some point in time. As Mark spoke further about his own experiences with homelessness, the name behind his video blog Invisible People really began to sink in. These people are often ignored, left to fend for themselves with little to no recognition from the general public. Just from Mark’s 30-minute speech, I could see the voice he has given this at-risk population and the power of his digital platform.  

Mark’s digital storytelling workshop following breakfast combined both marketing and journalism into one. As an ex-marketing major and current journalism student, I was able to observe the two working hand in hand for a common goal. Using video to tell the stories of those affected by homelessness, Mark is able to appeal to basic human emotions and bring their struggles to light. By then posting these videos to various social media platforms, the stories are able to reach a mass audience. These overlooked people are suddenly broadcasted on thousands of screens, reaching those who otherwise would have no idea of their daily fight for recognition.

Mark also had some very tangible lessons for us during his workshop. “Authenticity has replaced production value,” he said. You can have the most expensive equipment in the world, but if it doesn’t resonate with your audience then it is rendered basically useless. Invisible People’s second most viewed video was taken on the streets of London, using only the video and audio from a smartphone. The interaction with this young woman is the perfect example of authenticity transcending production quality.

Mark went on to speak of the changing digital landscape and the emergence of lone storytellers using their smartphones to outperform some of the largest organizations with extensive communications budgets. He also warned against making advertisements focusing solely on the organization. People want to see the process of someone overcoming obstacles, highlighting the human aspects of the good a nonprofit can contribute. This includes telling the not-so-great parts of the story and making the message you are trying to convey realistic as well as authentic.

As someone new to understanding issues around homelessness, I was able to witness the questions and concerns many of the participants had with fresh eyes. I could see their focus shift to how to apply Mark’s concepts to their own organization. A common topic amongst the group was how to tell stories without taking advantage of the individual. Mark advised that there should be consent from the participant being filmed, and the need to be upfront and honest about the project. Being forthright establishes trust, which can lead to more authentic storytelling. What struck me most from the discussion was the genuine care the people at the workshop expressed. While furthering their cause and increasing donations is important, they wanted to make sure they knew the proper way to go about approaching someone without necessarily using the story for their own personal gain.

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Mark’s digital storytelling workshop

All in all, Mark’s speech and workshop opened my eyes to the potential of effective digital storytelling. Taking many of the aspects of citizen journalism and then applying it to the realm of social media can extend the reach of your message to a widespread audience. A heartfelt story can go a long way to bringing awareness and empathy that your typical advertisement cannot. Armed with a smart phone, anyone has the ability to tell an effective story with the right intentions in mind. Bringing a voice to the voiceless is something Mark does on a daily basis. Having the opportunity to watch these people actively participate in the workshop demonstrated the drive so many nonprofits have, not only to further their cause but to bring a story to life the public otherwise would not see.

If you are interested in supporting Invisible People and helping to end homelessness please consider donating here.

By Nick Kipper, Communications & Public Policy Intern at Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. You can contact him at: commintern@mihomeless.org

Guest Post: Removing Barriers to Housing through Collaborative Fundraising

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MCAH learned about HandUp Detroit during their campaign to raise funds for 11 different service providers and agencies in the metro Detroit region. We were inspired by their dedication to collaboration and creative solutions to meeting client needs. MCAH and HandUp Detroit will be hosing a webinar on May 24 on how crowdfunding for individual client needs has impacted the region. Register online.

Homeless and in and out of shelters for over nine months, Rick had lost most of his possessions and was feeling unstable when he entered South Oakland Shelter (SOS). In less than two months, Rick secured a Section 8 voucher and SOS assisted him in finding affordable housing. Things were starting to look up! But Rick had one hurdle standing in his way; he didn’t have the money for a security deposit or any items to make the apartment a home.

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Rick, former client at South Oakland Shelter

That’s when his case manager connected him to HandUp Detroit. Rick made an online profile to share his story and fundraise for his needs. He quickly raised the money he needed through generous online donors, and is now happily living in his own home.

Rick’s story is just one example of the impact HandUp Detroit has had on people experiencing poverty in our community. When we found HandUp, South Oakland Shelter (SOS) was looking for ways to reduce the barriers to stability our clients were facing and which we could not afford. We wanted a tool to connect donors directly to clients in meaningful ways while helping clients with their specific goals. HandUp offered just that, and in 2014 SOS became HandUp’s first regional partner.

We were blown away by the response we received from our community and clients. In our first year, we increased our individual giving by 14% and have since helped 259 clients raise over $101,000 to fulfill 769 basic needs. Upon seeing the impact of this new resource, we knew we had to bring this tool to more people in our community.

So, we began developing HandUp Detroit with two goals in mind: (1) the desire to bring this resource to other agencies and their clients, and (2) to collaborate to create a bigger impact across Metro Detroit on the issues of homelessness. We envisioned a project that used the collective power of local nonprofits by focusing on the greater good of the community, rather than continuing to work in silos and competing for limited funds.

HandUp Detroit Landing Page

HandUp Detroit Landing Page

Our first step in establishing this collaborative was a series of meetings with other nonprofits to gauge their interest. We offered our vision, access to HandUp without fee, and encouraged feedback on what it would take to create a by-county collaborative with Oakland County and Detroit nonprofits.

Second, we reached out to Oakland County’s and Detroit’s Continuum of Cares (CoCs). We knew that if we could get the support of the CoCs, they would help us get the support of their member organizations. At the same time, we met with foundations to share our idea and get feedback on their funding interests.

After confirming interest from our community, we sought formal commitment through an MOU between SOS, HandUp, and the CoCs. With this formal support, expressed interest from other nonprofits, and feedback from foundations, we were ready to apply for funding. When we secured the resources needed to launch from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the McGregor Fund, we hired a HandUp Detroit Coordinator, Abby Adair, to grow and organize the collaborative.

Abby Adair, HandUp Detroit Coordinator, & Olympia, client at COTS

Abby Adair, HandUp Detroit Coordinator, & Olympia, client at COTS

Abby’s role has been to recruit nonprofit partners, train and support those partners on HandUp Detroit, and facilitate group collaboration and initiatives. Abby shared, “Growing and supporting the collaboration has been both challenging and rewarding. We are all working to help our clients get back on their feet, but achieving that success takes a lot of work. “

“I am working with agencies to integrate HandUp Detroit into their list of go-to resources. Part of my strategy is to learn each partner’s communication and work styles, discerning what they are most excited and concerned about. Each partner has limited time to devote to HandUp Detroit; thus, those details inform my approach to maximize their time. And as each agency has increased its time and effort, they are seeing how HandUp Detroit benefits their clients.”

HandUp Detroit has been overwhelmingly positive for the people served by us and our partner agencies which include: COTS, NSO, HAVEN, CHS, CSSWC, NLSM, CHN, Welcome Inn, Travelers Aid, and SOS. HandUp Detroit partners are pooling resources and learning from each other in ways we never would have before, and it’s all for the good of our client population. Moreover, HandUp Detroit serves as a useful education and advocacy tool in informing our community on the causes and effects of homelessness and poverty. There are nearly 500 stories of people like Rick on Detroit.HandUp.org of Metro Detroit neighbors in need, and anyone can read them and begin to understand the struggles that thousands of people in Metro Detroit experience.

Guest post by Abby Adair, Coordinator at HandUp Detroit and Jenny Poma, Director of Program Development at South Oakland Shelter. You can contact them at: abby@oaklandshelter.org and jenny@oaklandshelter.org

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