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.On 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
-By Laurel Burchfield, MCAH Manager of Marketing, Growth and Development. You can contact her at: email@example.com.