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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Michigan Recognizes 25th Annual Homeless Awareness Week

LANSING, Michigan (November 16, 2013) – Governor Snyder has designated November 16-24, 2013 as Homeless Awareness Week. This year’s theme “Bringing America Home” sends a strong call to action to all Michigan residents.

            Homeless Awareness Week is a statewide initiative to educate the public about the many reasons people become homeless  and the diligent work that service providers are doing to bring relief to those most in need. Too often, people who are homeless are stereotypically thought of as single panhandlers who refuse to work and are unworthy of assistance. The truth of the matter is that homelessness affects every community in Michigan – all age groups, all racial and ethnic groups, and families as well as individuals. The Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, in association with local agencies statewide, is spearheading this awareness effort.

            In 2012, there were over 93,000 homeless individuals across the state. The stereotypes ignore the real causes of homelessness, which are far more complex, and include: loss of employment, a lack of employment opportunities, a shortage of affordable housing, fleeing from domestic abuse, untreated mental illnesses, emergency medical crises, etc. Along with these examples, a great many people are simply born into poverty. In fact, the average age of a homeless child is just seven years old.

            Talking with those who experience homelessness firsthand, it is easy to see that every situation is unique and that there is no single reason that people become homeless. Robert Quick, a formerly homeless man who currently works to help others as a peer support specialist at the Northeast Guidance Center in Detroit, expressed this sentiment well. “Everyone has a story to tell, and everybody’s story is different. People become homeless for all kinds of reasons so you can’t say that it’s just one thing or another thing. They’re all just people so they’re all different.”

            While the number of people becoming homeless has leveled off since last year, the number of people who have been successfully housed or have taken action to avoid becoming homeless has increased. More than 41,000 individuals found stable housing in 2012. This success is attributed to new, expanded and improved programming, as well as enhanced coordination at the local level.

            According to Eric Hufnagel, Executive Director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, “There’s still a public misconception about who is homeless.  In 2012, more than half of homeless individuals were women, 29% were under the age of 18, and overall 43% of the adults were homeless for the first time. When you look at who they really are, you can see that anyone can become homeless.” 

            A more realistic understanding of the causes of homelessness will continue to lead to more effective solutions to reduce and prevent homelessness in the future.

            Michigan citizens from all walks of life are encouraged to help in any way they can by volunteering or making a donation to local programs working to help solve the problems facing individuals and families who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless.

            The Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness is dedicated to ending homelessness in the state of Michigan through community awareness, collaboration, capacity building, and advocacy. For more information please visit MCAH’s website at www.mihomeless.org .

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Well House Kicks Off New 19:1 Campaign

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This Monday, November 18 Well House is beginning a new campaign to alleviate homelessness in Kent County. This new initiative is called the 19:1 Campaign and it is in reference to the fact that for every one of the 1,000 people experiencing homelessness in Kent County, there are 19 empty housing units that they could use instead of sleeping on the street or in temporary shelters.

Well house is an organization based in Grand Rapids that believes strongly in the Housing First Model. This model recognizes that every individual experiencing homelessness has different needs and struggles, but in order to address their personal issues they first need access to safe, affordable housing. The goal of the 19:1 Campaign is to raise $25,000 between November 18 and the end of 2013 to renovate a house which will be used to provide more affordable housing for people in the Grand Rapids area.

The Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness is proud to endorse the 19:1 Campaign. For more information on the Campaign and to find out how you can help, visit the Well House home page here or the Event Facebook Page here

Local author’s book sharing homeless stories gets a national review from the Homelessness Resource Center

eyesMartha Bloomfield, writer and former Community Outreach Liaison at the Michigan Historical Museum, has recently written a book published by the Michigan State University Press entitled My Eyes Feel the Need to Cry, Stories from the Formerly Homeless. The book features a collection of intimate, personal stories told by formerly homeless individuals. By sharing their stories, she hopes to address and diminish some of the common stereotypes about homeless individuals and inform discussions to find better solutions to end homelessness.

Bloomfield’s book was recently reviewed by Brian Prioleau at the Homelessness Resource Center, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a national organization that provides information and resources to professionals working to end homelessness. Follow the link here to read the review and to learn more about the book and the great work Martha Bloomfield is doing to give a voice to those who are rarely heard.