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Salvation Army Helps People Stay in Their Homes

May 31, 2011

Majors Matt and Malinda O'Neil

This is the fifth in a series of articles on agencies that participate in the Midland County Continuum of Care.

In Midland County’s mosaic of housing assistance, the Salvation Army has a clearly defined task — helping people stay in their homes.

“We try to prevent people from losing their housing,” Capt. MaLinda O’Neil said in an interview at the Salvation Army’s Midland Corp Community Center, 330 Waldo Ave.

Residents facing a financial setback such as a layoff or unforeseen emergency can get a boost if it looks like they can maintain themselves in their home afterward, O’Neil said.

In the current economy, however, many people are living in housing they simply can’t afford, O’Neil said, and those cases are referred elsewhere to consider more affordable options.

Moving is often emotionally difficult for people, O’Neil said. “People don’t want to leave their homes, and sometimes affordable housing is less desirable housing.”

The Midland Corps, with a staff of two caseworkers, covers one-time rent or mortgage payment for an average of six families a month.

The Corps also provides a one-time cash payment to cover utilities to about 80 families a month. In the current market, many local landlords may be reducing rents, but utility costs remain high. A family can reapply every 12 months for utility assistance.

Keeping people in their homes is important, O’Neil said, because loss of a home sends economic stress skyrocketing.

Even if they have an income, she said, they may have to exhaust their resources paying to live in a motel, or may overextend their welcome with friends and family. They may also be late for work or miss work because of transportation or other problems, she said.

“Problems like that can be avoided if we can prevent them from becoming homeless,” O’Neil said.
She and her husband, Capt. Matt O’Neil, are co-officers and pastors at Salvation Army, where they have been assigned since 2008, coming here from the Detroit area.

In addition to its housing mission, the Salvation Army runs a Community Center with drop-in recreation, classes, men’s and women’s fellowship and regular worship services.

The Midland Corp is one of almost 30 agencies in the Midland County Continuum of Care, a collaborative whose mission is to provide services to the homeless or those in danger of losing safe, supportive and affordable housing.

Collaborating agencies play different roles. For example, Open Door Ministries focuses on emergency shelter and rehabilitation for the homeless; Shelterhouse provides safe housing and support for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault; Mid Michigan Community Action works in six counties to provide services ranging from weatherization and utility assistance to commodity food and pre-school.

Meanwhile, Midland Area Homes has emerged as the central intake point in Midland County for those with housing problems. It also provides assistance to home owners with minor repairs, collects and redistributes used furniture, and provides crisis rent assistance

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