Homelessness Advocacy Day in Michigan Calls for Increased Investment and Decreased Criminalization

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The second annual Michigan Homelessness Advocacy Day drew national attention. Our partners, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, reported on our event in their national memo. This is reprinted with permission and the original can be viewed at: http://nlihc.org/article/homelessness-advocacy-day-michigan-calls-increased-investment-and-decreased-criminalization.

More than 120 advocates from throughout Michigan convened in Lansing on April 11 to call for expanded rights and services for people experiencing homelessness. The second annual Homelessness Advocacy Day provided training, factsheets, and talking points to support the lobbying efforts of shelter providers, people with first-hand experience being homeless, and their allies. The event was organized by Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness (MCAH), one of NLIHC’s newest state partners.

Advocates met with 73 legislative offices, and presented advocacy materials in offices where they were unable to get on the calendar, covering all 110 representatives and all 38 senators. At each lobby meeting, advocates invited legislators to join upcoming policy roundtables in their respective communities to discuss housing affordability. At the Homelessness Advocacy Day debrief session, advocates indicated a growing awareness among legislators on homelessness policy interventions and a strong interest by lawmakers in an ongoing conversation.

The primary requests to legislators on Homelessness Advocacy Day fell into five categories: making it easier to obtain state IDs; expanding access to vital documents like birth certificates; decriminalizing homelessness; supporting affordable housing programs; and increasing funding for homeless services. To support these requests, MCAH provided advocates with key data from the state’s 2016 annual report. The data demonstrate the effectiveness of homeless services and housing programs, showing a 9% decrease in homelessness since 2014.

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Legislative asks from the 2018 Homelessness Advocacy Day

Advocates spoke in support of a proposed amendment to Senate Bill 404 which will add people experiencing homelessness as well as veterans to the eligibility list for Michigan’s “Free ID for Me” program. The Secretary of State’s office oversees Free ID for ME, which waives all fees for state identification cards. The program currently serves individuals who are blind, are over the age of 65, or have had their driver’s license suspended due to mental or physical disabilities. Expanding access to state identification cards is a high priority for MCAH advocates because access to supportive services and benefits usually requires this basic proof of identification. MCAH estimates that more than 30,000 people have been denied Social Security income, Medicaid, or Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program assistance (food stamps), due to their lack of state identification.

Access to birth records are a similar barrier for many people experiencing homelessness. In a 2017 survey of homeless service providers, birth certificates were identified as the most difficult vital document for a homeless person to acquire. Currently, birth certificates cost $34 when they are accessed through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Service’s (MDHHS) Vital Docs office. Advocates are pushing for the passage of House Bills 5418 and 5584, both of which include provisions allowing County Clerks to charge only the local fees for birth certificates, which average $13.38.

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Rep Johnson addresses advocates regarding his legislation that will reduce the financial burden for those seeking vital documents

According to MCAH, 3,307 homeless individuals spent time in jail during 2017 as a result of their homelessness. In some cases, these stays were intentional. Thirty-nine percent of shelter staff members surveyed indicate they were aware of homeless individuals who committed imprisonable offenses just to have an opportunity for a warm bed in jail. To reduce recidivism by ex-offenders, advocates also urge legislators to recognize the importance of housing availability for returning prisoners. In Michigan, data show that formerly incarcerated individuals are twice as likely to recidivate when they do not have stable housing. To reduce criminalization, House Bill 4798 would allow for expungement of multiple convictions that arise from the same criminal infraction. For example, a person would not have a criminal record for a trespassing violation, a second one for failing to pay a fine for that same offense, and a third for a probation-violation stemming from the same instance. Too often, criminal records are structured to indicate a much more extensive history of criminal behavior than what actually occurred.

Advocates additionally emphasized the importance of programs that support housing affordability, but they did not request additional state-level funding since the current Michigan appropriations process does not include a housing budget committee, with the majority of homeless services funded with federal dollars. Rather, advocates are advancing Senate Bill 110 which allows municipalities to offer various incentives for more affordable housing affordability, incentives that have been banned statewide.

The big funding request during Homelessness Advocacy Day was for homeless services. Specifically, advocates asked that the legislature increase MDHHS funding for homelessness to $20 per shelter night from the current level of $16. By comparison, advocates shared that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays $43.32 per shelter night.

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Advocates meet with Rep Brann, sponsor of appropriations legislation that will increase funding for homeless services

“We are so delighted to have so many dedicated and active advocates throughout Michigan,” said Eric Hufnagel, executive director at MCAH. “This was only our second annual advocacy day, but we are already seeing progress in many legislative offices. Our task now is to continue to build these relationships and cultivate new legislative champions.”

For more information about Homelessness Advocacy Day and priority policy requests in Michigan, contact Laurel Burchfield, MCAH’s manager for marketing, growth & development at: lburchfield@mihomeless.org. Follow Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness on Twitter @mihomeless #EndMIHomelessness.

Guest post by Joey Lindstrom, Manager for Field Organizing at the National Low Income Housing Coalition. You can contact him at: jlindstrom@nlihc.org.

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State IDs key to success for people experiencing homelessness

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Debbie Miszak is the MCAH spring semester Communications & Public Policy intern. She grew up in Detroit at the height of the Recession and witnessed people in her neighborhood face homelessness. MCAH’s work to end homelessness in the state is very important to her. 

State IDs are a necessary part of everyday life, and are needed to benefit from many state and federal government services. However, some of the people who need them the most are forced to jump through a variety of hoops to accomplish this. These people are Michigan’s homeless population. The Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness has been working to make this an easier process.

According to data that MCAH collected from 92 service providers in 2017, the top three barriers to obtaining a State ID are cost, transportation, and obtaining supporting documentation.

Cost is the largest setback that individuals experiencing homelessness face when trying to get a State ID. While Michigan does have the Free ID for Me program, most individuals experiencing homelessness do not qualify to have the $10 ID fee waived. While $10 may not seem like much, this can sometimes be only the first of many fees that they will face.

Depending on how many trips to the Secretary of State an individual experiencing homelessness might be forced to make, the cost of transportation can also add up. For those living in a rural community, limited access to reliable public transit may result in whole days spent getting to the proper offices. Our data shows that 73% of clients required two or more trips to the Secretary of State to get a State ID, while 33% required three or more trips.

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Aside from cost, there is another huge and glaring issue that individuals experiencing homelessness face with regard to the documentation needed to acquire a State ID: proof of residence.

In order to get a State ID, homeless individuals need access to birth certificates, social security cards, and other records which can cost money to obtain, and can take time to locate. According to our data, obtaining a birth certificate is the most difficult document for people experiencing homelessness to acquire.

A lot of these are needed to prove that individuals are from where they say they are from. The issue that arises is that individuals experiencing homelessness do not have a permanent residence.

The Michigan Secretary of State has established a pilot program in five communities across the state wherein a person experiencing homelessness can use a Homelessness Management Information System [HMIS] ID and a verification letter. MCAH, working with the State ID Taskforce, has been advocating for the Michigan Secretary of State to expand this pilot statewide.

To provide perspective, I spoke to individuals through My Brother’s Keeper who have been through the process of accessing their IDs. . The shelter is located in Genessee County, which is one of the five pilot communities.

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Alvin Montgomery went through the process of getting a State ID with My Brother’s Keeper. Photo by Debra Hayes, My Brother’s Keeper

Alvin Montgomery is a non-combat veteran of the United States Army. He found himself without a State ID after a house fire in Wisconsin while he was a resident there.

He initially hit roadblocks when he first went to the Secretary of State to get his ID.

“I went down [to the Secretary of State] first, but I didn’t have all the documentation I needed,” Montgomery said. “I had to come back with my birth certificate, and My Brother’s Keeper gave me a paper to cover the fee. I went back for it the next day, and I’m waiting for it in the mail now.”

Not only did he need to get his birth certificate, but he also needed his Social Security Card. He said having clearer access to information on what was needed to get his ID would’ve made the process simpler.

“Well for me,  if I would’ve had all the information — it was kind of my fault — because I didn’t ask all the right questions,” Montgomery said. “I didn’t know I would’ve needed my birth certificate. They just told me they needed three pieces of mail and my social security card. All I needed to do was have the correct information and it would’ve made the process a lot easier.”

Montgomery said that with the right information and documentation gathered, the process is much quicker.

While he waits for his ID to arrive, he also has to wait to get housing resources, like HARP, which require photo identification. HARP is the Housing Assistance Recovery Program, which can provide low-income people with Section 8 housing.

This is one of the main reason having access to State IDs is so crucial.

You can’t get anything done without your ID. You can’t access pretty much anything. Just being able to prove who you are is important.

Gregory Wooton, an ex-marine, also had the help of My Brother’s Keeper in gaining his State ID.

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Gregory Wooton was able to access fee waivers in order to obtain his State ID. Photo by Debrah Hayes, My Brother’s Keeper

“My Brother’s Keeper has really opened the doors for me,” Wooton said. “They helped me get my birth certificate. They waived the fees for that. They waive the fees for IDs.”

Organizations around the state fill the gaps when individuals facing homelessness have trouble acquiring state IDs. Not only do they provide transportation and assistance obtaining supporting documents, they also connect clients to services once they have that crucial photo identification.

At the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, we’re working to make it an easier process for people who do not have these resources to get State IDs so that they can navigate their way to success more easily.

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As we move forward, we plan to help individuals experiencing homelessness overcome their situations through policy, and advocacy. On April 11, we will outline our advocacy priorities for the 2018-2019 year, one of which will be creating a simpler process to attain a State ID.

We can’t continue this work without your support. Help us move solutions through the legislative process and give today: https://www.classy.org/campaign/state-id/c174448.

By Debbie Miszak, Communications & Public Policy Intern at Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. You can contact her at: commintern@mihomeless.org

MCAH’s Year in Review and Eyes Ahead for 2018!

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Chelsea Nelson, MCAH Board Member, takes us on a review of 2017 and shares with us her excitement for the year ahead.

As we near the end of 2017, we at the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness want to take time to reflect on the year’s accomplishments, as well as thank those who’ve made this year such a success. As a Board Member on MCAH, I can’t begin to thank the team who work diligently every day to make the organization such a powerful force striving every minute to make a positive impact within the state and individual lives. It is truly an honor to be associated with MCAH in any capacity.

Advocating to End Homelessness in Michigan

A few of the most noteworthy accomplishments over the past year have been embedded in policy efforts, including the 1st Annual Homelessness Advocacy Day in which we brought 70 advocates to the capital to educate over 70 legislative state offices on homeless-related issues.

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Here, our Michigan advocates introduced our policy priorities:

  • Securing state ID’s which are essential for achieving economic and service securities;
  • Decriminalization of homelessness in which MCAH is exploring ways to improve relationships between those experiencing homelessness and the criminal justice system;
  • The urgent need for strategic solutions to address the need and lack of availability of affordable housing; and
  • Increased funding for homeless services.

In all, the 1st Annual Homelessness Advocacy Day was an informative and proactive success! This year we saw victories in Michigan as we advocated for an increase in per diem funding for emergency shelters from $12 to $16 a day. But despite the pressure from state and national advocates calling for increased federal HUD and housing program funding, Congress has yet to pass a budget that meets the needs of those experiencing or at-risk of homelessness. We continue to voice our concerns regarding slashes to funding through the budget and the tax bill.

Celebrating Champions and Honoring Personal Stories

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Deborah Hendren and Elizabeth Kelly, representatives for the Oakland County ID Task Force, receive their award for Public Policy Champions at the 2017 Breakfast of Champions.

The annual Breakfast of ChampionsInvisible People and Authentic Storytelling event offered words from Invisible People’s inspirational speaker, Mark Horvath. The event recognized the work of three incredible champions: Denise Dunn, Housing Services MidMichigan – Community Champion, Oakland County ID Task Force – Public Policy Champion, and Lysne Tait and Amy Stephenson, Helping Women Period – Volunteer Champion. We continue to thank these individuals for the incredible support and work they provide.

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Mark Horvath of Invisible People speaks to attendees of the 2017 Breakfast of Champions.

We also had a rousing rally at the capital this year titled “How Housing Changed My Life.” Ten speakers with personal experience of homelessness told their stories in front of the state capitol and called for increased federal funding for HUD and programs that support housing and homelessness services. We’ve shared these inspirational moments on our YouTube Channel, so all can hear the powerful stories.

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Antria, a storyteller at the “How Housing Changed My Life” rally addresses the crowd from the state capitol steps in Lansing.

Reaching Decision Makers

Lastly, one of the more notable 2017 moments was the Homelessness Sleep Out in which four state legislators, a locally elected official and other stakeholders joined us to experience one night without a home. We partnered with local agencies and individuals with personal experience of homelessness for an informative program and then sent decision-makers and thought leaders out into the cold November to sleep outside. This evening proved insightful as to the realistic challenges many homeless individuals may encounter, and we applaud all of those who participated as a step towards understanding more of the grave issue of homelessness.

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Participants of the 2017 Homelessness Sleep Out learn more about street outreach from the Lansing area PATH team.

Looking Forward

With eyes on 2018, we look towards many opportunities that offer inspirational change. Our mission to create a sustainable statewide voice and the infrastructure and systemic change needed to empower communities to end homelessness is challenged by congressional threats to reduce funding and eliminate programming for essential homelessness and housing services. We will bring the expertise of our partners and the results of our HMIS data collection to Lansing and DC to educate decision makers about the funding and policies we need to enact lasting change. We will proactively seek to bring in best practices, resources, and examples of legislation that has been successful in other states and communities to Lansing and work with legislative champions to replicate these successes in Michigan. Furthermore, we hope to empower communities via webinars, trainings, and activities and events encouraging legislative engagement.

By using our HMIS data and personal storytellers, we hope to show what homelessness really looks like and how it can truly impact anyone. Ultimately, we believe that everyone deserves a home and that families, seniors, and youth who are living on the streets, in their cars, or in shelters deserve the same respect and dignity as everyone else. We know that we can end homelessness if we work together to create better policies, provide better access to resources, and find solutions that work for everyone. Our efforts, combined with our partners’ work that connects individuals directly to assistance, is creating lasting change so that not only are we helping those who currently are homeless, but we’re making sure that no one has to be homeless in Michigan again. Your support makes a long-term difference in the way we address homelessness.

Not only are we helping those who currently are homeless, but we’re making sure that no one has to be homeless in Michigan again.

An end of year donation, no matter $5 or $500 provides such a high level of support that has a lasting impact on the organization and the homeless community as a whole. We ask that you remember MCAH in your final push for the year’s donations. Please visit bit.ly/GiveMIHomeless to make a tax-deductible donation and learn about MCAH membership that supports such a paramount cause.

Thank you again to all of those who have aided in MCAH’s 2017 success, and we look forward to rolling up our sleeves for an even more impactful year ahead!

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By Chelsea Nelson, MCAH Board Member and Co-Chair of MCAH Communications and Fund Development Committee.

THE IMPACT OF THE TAX BILL ON AFFORDABLE HOUSING

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Now is a crucial moment for the future of affordable housing and support for vulnerable populations in our country.

As you know, last week the Senate passed their version of a tax bill. Since the Senate version differs from the House version passed in November, the next step is for a conference committee with delegates from both Chambers to meet and reconcile these differences. This presents a short window in which we can educate our legislators regarding the impact this will have on our communities.

MCAH opposes the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for many reasons, and we encourage you to join us in contacting your members of congress and House conferee member Rep Sander Levin (D-MI-9) to voice your concerns. While we encourage you to ask them to oppose the bill in its entirety, there are two main asks that we will be communicating:

  • Make sure that Private Activity Bonds and New Markets Tax Credit remains in the final version
  • Remove the Senate repeal of the individual mandate for the ACA

While there are many troubling potential outcomes to this bill, the following are some of the most concerning as it relates to our work to end homelessness in Michigan:

  • REDUCES AFFORDABLE HOUSING AVAILABILITY
    • The House version repeals Private Activity Bonds (Housing Bonds which includes multifamily bonds) and the New Markets Tax Credit. If Housing Bonds are repealed, an estimated 800,000 affordable homes will not be built over the next ten years. Multifamily bonds, which are accompanied by 4% housing tax credits, account for over 50% of all Housing Credit (House version only; Senate version retains)
    • Lowers the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%, which lowers the value of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and reduces the amount of equity capital invested by around $2 billion annually. This could result in around 200,000 fewer units over ten years and overall lessen the value of the Housing Credit. (House and Senate versions)
  • PUTS FUTURE PROGRAMMING FOR VULNERABLE POPULATIONS AT RISK
  • ENDANGERS THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT
    • The Senate version repeals the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which could be the first step in the process to fully repeal the ACA and limit Medicaid enrollment to those experiencing homelessness. (Senate version)
  • DOESN’T DO ENOUGH TO PROTECT THE MIDDLE CLASS OR LOW-INCOME FAMILIES
    • Estimates regarding the impact of the individual tax cut suggest that the middle class may see a short term decrease in taxes paid but in the Senate bill, the individual tax cuts sunset in 2025 meaning that this is a short-term benefit. Low income families on the other hand will see little to no impact on their income. (Senate version)
    • The House version cuts the mortgage interest deduction in half to $500,000, but doesn’t include any mechanism for transferring savings into the Housing Trust Fund or other program to assist low-income families. The Senate bill maintained it at $1 million.

It is important that you contact your member of Congress, as well as the conferees who have been designated to reconcile the two versions of the bill.

The House conferees are:

  • Conference Chair: Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX-8)
  • Devin Nunes (R-CA-22)
  • Peter Roskam (R-IL-6)
  • Diane Black (R-TN-6)
  • Kristi Noem (R-SD-at large)
  • Rob Bishop (R-UT-1)
  • Don Young (R-AK-at large)
  • Greg Walden (R-OR-2)
  • John Shimkus (R-IL-15)
  • Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Richard Neal (D-MA-1)
  • Sander Levin (D-MI-9)
  • Lloyd Doggett (D-TX-35)
  • Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-3)
  • Kathy Castor (D-FL-14)

The Senate conferees are:

  • Conference Chair: Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY)
  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Sen. John Thune (R-SD)
  • Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)
  • Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)
  • Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA)
  • Democratic conferees still to be appointed

For more information about the impact this could have on the future of affordable housing, please see:

 

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