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Midland Area Homes has changing role

August 1, 2010

Sally York, Midland Area Homes

First in a monthly series on participating agencies in Continuum of Care.

Midland County’s assistance to the homeless and near-homeless is becoming better organized and less fragmented than in the past.

The catalyst for the change is a federal program called Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The legislation requires recipient counties to have a central intake point for those faced with homelessness.

The agency pulling things together is Midland Area Homes, 1825 Bay City Road.

Executive director Sally York says the agency’s increasingly centralized role is making a difference for the homeless and those in imminent danger of losing their homes.

“Rather than having them go piece by piece, we do a full assessment, develop a plan and have case workers to work with them,” York said.

She wants social service agencies to know that they no longer have to try to figure out where to send people with housing problems and whether they are qualified for assistance. “Just send the person who has the problem to us,” she said.

The federal program provides funding for two additional case workers, doubling the agency’s case worker staff.

Part of the agency’s role is to certify people as qualified for Housing Choice Vouchers. These are federal money funneled through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

How many vouchers will be available for Midland County and when “is a little mysterious,” York said. That’s because available vouchers not picked up immediately in a county are passed along to other counties, she said.

This means Midland Area Homes always tries to have a waiting list of qualified renters to take advantage of money when it’s available, she said.

Most Midland County landlords accept the vouchers, which are “better than cash,” York said, because they are guaranteed. A few landlords don’t like the paperwork involved and don’t participate, she said.

Currently there are about 300 households with active vouchers in Midland County, and 25 people have obtained vouchers over the last two months, York said.

“This is a great program to help those that have legitimate need for housing support. It helps landlords, and it’s great for the community,” she said.

Midland Area Homes was established 41 years ago by 10 local churches, with behind-the-scenes encouragement from local foundations.

In addition to its role as a central intake point for those with housing problems, it provides assistance to home owners with minor repairs, collects and redistributes used furniture, and provides crisis rent assistance.

The agency “helps about 1,000 people a year,” York said, about half of them furniture clients. In-depth case management is provided to 200 to 300 households.

Midland Area Homes is a United Way agency, and also receives funding from contributions from the public, churches, local foundations, and grants.

York has been with the agency since 2002. Trained as a nurse, she designed her own degree program at Alma College, in non-profit health organization management, and also earned a master’s in business from Central Michigan University.

She worked at Senior Services for 18 years before becoming executive director of Midland Area Homes.

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