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Continuum MCTV Programs

The following Continuum MCTV programs are available for viewing:

Where do the homeless go? – Amanda Johnson and Grant Murschel

Midland County Former Offenders Advocacy and Rehabilitation (MCFOAR) – Rob Worsley

MidMichigan Community Action Agency (MMCAA) – Jill Sutton


Annual Snapshot of Homeless Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

by Joe Mortensen

The “point in time” count of homeless persons taken at the end of every January yields a snapshot of the situation, but it isn’t the whole picture, according to Amanda Johnson, housing resource specialist at Midland Area Homes.

The recent count reported more than 300 individuals either living in shelters such as Midland’s Open Door and Shelterhouse, or doubled up with friends or family, “couch-surfing”, living in an automobile, or facing eviction.

The numbers have declined over the past three or four years, but they aren’t the whole story. They are the “tip of the iceberg,” according to Johnson.

Midland Area Homes serves as the Housing Assistance and Resource Agency (HARA) for Midland County. It’s where individuals and families seek help when they are without shelter or at risk of homelessness.

In Johnson’s five years on the job not a day has gone by without someone seeking her help with housing. In January she processed 94 inquiries and did 24 intakes. In February there were 95 inquiries and 31 intakes.

Those who turn to the HARA often telephone first. A brief intake determines whether help may be available. An appointment with Johnson includes a full assessment, showing proof of income, and whether there’s an eviction pending. “We try our hardest to figure out something,” she says, “to keep people where they are or try to relocate them.”

A typical need which she encounters is people, both single and families, who face eviction for not paying rent, often owing a landlord $2,000 or more.

To resolve a given situation Johnson finds out what resources those in need have used, what’s affordable, and whether it’s better to move or stay put. She asks whether there’s any income tax refund coming that might help. Will the landlord wait? Will the landlord agree to a plan to work out back payment?

A diminishing affordable housing supply means people tend to stay put for lack of alternatives. According to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) fair market rent for the Midland area is $585 per month for a one bedroom unit. With utilities added annual housing costs come to $9,000 a year, well out of reach for many people.

Especially big barriers to finding housing face those who’ve committed a felony, are registered sex-offenders, have bad credit, or can’t meet the minimum income requirement.

Not everyone can be helped. Where there are lots of back bills – especially utilities, not enough community resources, unwilling, uncooperative landlords, or back rent in excess of $5,000, what then? “We keep trying to help,” Johnson says.

Midland Area Homes, located at 825 Bay City Rd, in Midland, telephone (989) 496-9550, is one of more more than 20 non-profit, governmental, and faith-based organizations working through Midland County Continuum of Care to prevent homelessness by providing housing-related services to those who are homeless or living in substandard housing.

Project Housing Connect Report

by Joe Mortensen

Project Housing Connect’s annual one-day one-stop-shop once again offered a generous menu of practical assistance to those in Midland County who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Those who came availed themselves of free winter wear such as fleece gloves, supplies of detergent, and the sling packs provided by Shelter House and given to every attendee.

They also took advantage of the counsel and help of the two dozen or more local governmental, church-related, social service, and healthcare agencies related to Midland County Continuum of Care which sponsors the annual event.

This year’s event stood out from prior years in one important measure: attendance. Turnout was down 40% from last year.

Is the smaller turnout good news or bad? Amanda Johnson, coordinator of the event and housing specialist at Midland Area Homes, ponders the registration data, trying to figure out why 107 fewer people than last year came through the door on November 5 at First United Methodist Church of Midland.

The statistics Johnson compiles offer a few clues. For one thing, no one who registered this year had received an eviction notice, compared to 8 last year and more than 20 the two years before that.

Another clue is the number of unemployed individuals among those who showed up. Compared to an average of 15 the previous three years, this year there was only one without some kind of work.

Johnson points to another bit of data: a noticeable drop in the number of individuals “couch-surfing” (finding temporary shelter with a friend) or “doubled-up” (staying with family). Last year there were 40 people in those categories. This year it was 17.

Local employment statistics may also shed light on the matter. A December 3 Midland Daily News article reported a drop in the local unemployment rate to 4.7%. Johnson says, “As much as anything the data cited in the article may explain our smaller turnout. More people may be finding work.”

Yet the local labor force has shrunk by 250 employed people and 225 unemployed. Johnson’s best guess is that many of those 475 people moved elsewhere, some of them out of state, and that too may be a reason why fewer people came to this year’s Project Housing Connect.

As in previous years the Open Door Ministries provided free lunch to all who came. Community volunteers came to staff the serving line.

Project Housing Connect is sponsored by Midland County Continuum of Care and the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. The Midland Continuum combines the efforts of more than 20 non-profit and governmental agencies to prevent homelessness by providing housing-related services to those who are homeless or living in substandard housing.

Donations, Volunteers needed for Project Housing Connect

Donations, Volunteers needed for Project Housing Connect

By Joe Mortensen

Personal care items and winter clothing – gloves, hats, coats – are needed for Project Housing Connect, the one-stop shop on Wednesday, November 5, for Midland County residents who are homeless or need help to keep their homes. Donations may be dropped off at Midland Area Homes, 1825 Bay City Road, Midland.

Volunteers are also needed, as hallway guides and to staff the registration tables and the giveaway room. Volunteers may sign up through the United Way Volunteer Website:

Project Housing Connect will be held at the First United Methodist Church of Midland on November 5 between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Use the Larkin St. entrance.

No prior registration is needed for those who seek assistance, but ID and evidence of income is expected.

The two dozen or more human service agencies cooperating in Project Housing Connect will fill the church’s fellowship hall with displays, printed information, and on the spot sign-up for assistance.

Two new services are being offered this year: people with no insurance can get free flu shots, and representatives of Bay Area Housing will be on hand to offer counsel and assistance with homeownership and eviction and foreclosure issues.

Among the most popular services at the annual event are free haircuts as well as health screening offered by MidMichigan Medical Center-Midland. Individuals who want a haircut should wash their hair before coming. Medical screenings require a 12 hour fast before testing can be done.

The giveaway room offers free personal care items and aluminum water bottles, all  packed in an attractive sling pack.

As in past years Midland’s Open Door will provide free lunch to all who attend.

Amanda Johnson, housing specialist at Midland Area Homes and chair of Project Housing Connect, said, “I hope that the event helps people learn something new and gain a new service which they wouldn’t otherwise receive.” Questions may be directed to her at 989-496-9550.

Project Housing Connect is sponsored by Midland County Continuum of Care and the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. The Midland Continuum combines the efforts of more than 20 non-profit and governmental agencies to prevent homelessness by providing housing-related services to those who are homeless or living in substandard housing.

Midland Continuum website:

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Annual count provides snapshot of homelessness

Annual count provides snapshot of homelessness

by Joe Mortensen

Help for the homeless in the Midland area is making a difference, but much remains to be done.

That’s how Amanda Johnson, housing specialist at Midland Area Homes, views the data from the annual Point in Time Count (PIT) of homeless persons taken in January 2014. She noted only minor changes in the numbers from the previous year. “Assistance in the community is making an impact,” she said.

Yet she was quick to point out the ongoing challenge. “We are seeing more high need cases this year that require more case management services to resolve the situation and find a housing solution,” Johnson said.

The severe winter has also exacerbated the situation, making it difficult for those who have jobs to put in their usual hours and earn enough to pay rent and very high bills for heat and electricity.

On the night the count was taken more than 200 men, women, and children in Midland County were either homeless or at great risk of it.

Sue LaBean, director of The Open Door, a ministry serving men, women, and children through its men’s and women’s shelters and soup kitchen, reported that their facilities have both been full to overflowing on most nights this winter.

Shelterhouse, Midland’s haven for victims of domestic abuse – one significant cause of homelessness – is almost always at capacity, according to Kimberlee Bruce, director of client and community advocacy at Shelterhouse. “Our shelter is consistently full and this winter was no exception. We average 13 people in shelter each night, about half of which are children,” Bruce said.

Every January social service agencies which are part of Midland County Continuum of Care must submit the count of homeless persons to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The PIT count includes those housed in emergency shelters, transitional housing, domestic abuse shelters, and in places not fit for human habitation (such as cars or tents) on a single night. and provides a lens through which to assess progress in sheltering the homeless.

Not counted in the reported numbers are other individuals at high risk of homelessness such as  “couch-surfers” — people staying no more than 2 days in one place — and those doubling up with friends or family.

Midland County Continuum of Care unites the efforts of more than 20 private and public  agencies working to prevent homelessness by providing housing-related services to those who are homeless or living in substandard housing.

City Updates Fair Housing Plan

City updates Fair Housing Plan

by Joe Mortensen

The City of Midland’s Housing Commission is updating its Fair Housing Plan to assure compliance with all federal and state laws in the use of Community Block Development Grants (CBDG). The 40 page draft of the Plan combines up to date demographic data with a look at impediments to fair housing and proposes solutions to eliminate any impediments.

Development of the Plan requires that the City’s Housing Commission hold hearings to allow for public reaction and input prior to adoption by the Commission and the City Council. Hearings will be at City Hall on Wednesday, July 9, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Thursday, July 10, from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Grant Murschel, the City’s community development planner, explains that Midland receives Community Block Development Funds (CBDG) from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and thus must periodically review and revise its Fair Housing Plan to assure compliance. It was last updated in 2006.

Murschel values the “conversation with those affected by and those involved” in the Fair Housing Plan Update. “It’s beneficial for the whole community,” he said.

The Fair Housing Act of 1964 (amended 1988) bars discrimination based on race, color religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability. The State of Michigan’s own Civil Rights Act and Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act add two protected categories: age and marital status.

As an “entitlement community” the City receives HUD funds (approximately $200,000 per year at present) to maintain the stock of affordable housing for the benefit of low and moderate income residents. These funds are in turn passed along to “sub-grantee” non-profit organizations for facility improvements, safety and security systems, accessibility (such as a ramp at Cleveland Manor), public services, and Dial-a-Ride tickets.

Murschel underscored a major benefit of the CDBG program. “The local non-profit agencies are often able to leverage the CBDG funds with matching contributions and multiply the impact of the grant money,” he said.

The CBDG funds enable the City and its non-profit partners to rehabilitate homes, install new roofs and weather-proofing, make repairs, and see to proper water and sewer connections. Non-profit partners include The Open Door, Cleveland Manor, Shelterhouse, The Legacy Center, Midland Area Homes, Habitat for Humanity, West Midland Family Center, Reece Endeavor, Caregiving Network, Safe and Sound Child Advocacy Center, and Legal Services of Eastern Michigan.

From his office at City Hall Grant Murschel oversees agreements with the local non-profit agencies, provides resources for implementation, keeps track of those who have been helped, and establishes an audit trail. He also represents the City on the Midland County Continuum of Care.

The Midland Continuum combines the efforts of more than 20 non-profit and governmental agencies to prevent homelessness by providing housing-related services to those who are homeless or living in substandard housing.

Midland Continuum website:

Supportive Services for Veterans

No veteran should go without a home

by Joe Mortensen

No veteran without safe, stable housing – that’s the goal of Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF), a program of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs administered by MidMichigan Community Action Agency (MMCAA).

The sole focus of SSVF is rapid rehousing to prevent homelessness. “The words ‘homeless’ and ‘veteran’ should not be in the same sentence,” said Debra Schafer, outreach assistant director at MMCAA. “We want to be part of the solution.”

SSVF has set a goal of ending homelessness among veterans by 2015, according to Schafer. Her agency has received a $500,000 grant to house 250 veterans’ families in its 11 county service area, which includes Midland County.

To date MMCAA has been able to house 180 veterans’ families (300 people) in safe, affordable housing. The total includes 23 families in Midland County. SSFV assists veterans with rent, utility payments, deposits, moving costs, purchase of emergency supplies for a participant, transportation, and child care.

Finding veterans in need of housing is one major challenge. “Many veterans don’t identify themselves as needing help or identify as veterans,” said Schafer, a veteran of military service herself. “If they didn’t serve in wartime or did not serve their full term, they think they’re ineligible.”

But that’s not the case. SSFV clearly defines “veteran” as any person who has served in the military and was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable discharge.

Schafer cited incidents of veterans living in the woods or tents in midwinter. “Most of them don’t know where to turn,” she said. One veteran in Midland County found shelter in a snowmobile trailer in the bitter winter cold. A long extension cord from a willing neighbor’s house brought power to a small space heater. He had only a flashlight to read by. Help from SSFV came to the rescue. “He is now permanently housed in a subsidized unit with rent he can afford,” Schafer said.

Finding enough adequate, safe, and affordable housing for veterans is the other big challenge. This is especially true in Midland County which has a very limited supply of places for veterans whose “affordable” monthly housing costs are capped at 30% of income.

Veterans who are presently homeless or at risk of homelessness may apply for housing assistance through MMCAA at 877-204-6152.

Referrals are also available through Veterans Services of Midland County (989-832-6843), Michigan Works (1409 Washington, 989-631-3073), and many non-profit organizations such as Midland Area Homes and Legal Services of Eastern Michigan.

Debra Schafer represents MidMichigan Community Action Agency on the Midland County Continuum of Care, a consortium of more than 20 private and public agencies working to prevent homelessness by providing housing-related services to those who are homeless or living in substandard housing.

Midland County Continuum of Care website: