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Human service agencies connect to homeless

Project Housing Connect, a once a year event for local people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, drew a near record turnout of 251, according to registration data.

Amanda Johnson, housing specialist at Midland Area Homes and coordinator of the one day program, compiled the data gathered at the program sponsored by Midland County Continuum of Care and held in early November at First United Methodist Church. She reports that 251 individuals came through the door, a ten percent increase over the previous three-year average.

For three hours a steady stream of people lined up to avail themselves of the free services of more than two dozen government and non-profit human service agencies. When the doors closed at 2 p.m. the tables of free clothing, personal care and laundry products, and food items were virtually empty.

Two services not previously offered at Project Housing Connect were free eye and dental care. All appointments were filled well before the event.

The bigger turnout may be due in part to the number of children affected by homelessness.“We are impacting more children than we ever have at the event with 142 children [in 2013] compared to 118 children in 2012,” said Johnson.

More of those who came seeking help are employed than in any previous year, Johnson noted, but “the average income seems to be going down.” 168 of the 251 registrants reported household income of $1,500 a month or less. 41 had no income.

The 251 registrants represented 450 individuals and 191 households, 70 of them currently residing in shelters, staying temporarily with friends or family, in transition, and even a few (4) surviving in a car or tent. The majority (133) live in rental housing.

After studying the statistics for the day, Johnson concluded, “There is still a big need out there for people who are struggling with their housing.”

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.

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Dental care and eye exams offered at Project Housing Connect

Project Housing Connect, the annual one-stop shop for Midland County residents who need help to keep their homes or are homeless, has two new services to offer this year: dental care for those age birth to 21 and eye exams.

This year’s event – the 8th annual – will be held on Wednesday, November 6, from 11am to 2pm at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Midland. Amanda Johnson, housing specialist at Midland Area Homes and coordinator of the Project on behalf the Midland County Continuum of Care, expressed hope for a big turnout. “We aim to have 300 households represented,” she said.

Health Delivery, Inc. will give dental care in its mobile dental bus which will be parked at the church. Some fees may apply, and appointments are necessary. Call 496-9550 by November 1. Appointments for eye care have already been filled.

Health screening, one of Project Housing Connect’s most popular services, will be available again this year, provided by staff from MidMichigan Health Center-Midland.
Free haircuts, another popular feature, will also be given.

Other on-site services include free lunch prepared by the Open Door, free winter outer wear, take home food box, personal care items, quit smoking help, and DHS services applications. As many as 25 local agencies will be on hand to take inquiries and process applications for help.

Michigan Public Service Commission representatives will be present to explain programs for assisting those who have difficulty paying utility bills.

Johnson stressed the need for volunteers and contributions, especially of laundry detergent and regular size bottles of shampoo for the give away room. “Volunteers are needed particularly to staff the registration table and monitor the distribution room,” she said. Contact 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.

Majority of homeless find shelter by “doubling-up”

On one night late last January more than 60% of some 400 Midland County individuals identified as homeless found shelter by doubling-up with family or friends. The number was reported by local agencies in the annual “Point-in-Time” (PIT) count.

The remaining 40% either took refuge in emergency shelters, “couch-surfed” — stayed in one place seven days or less, survived in places not fit for human habitation, or were in process of being evicted.

Amanda Johnson, housing resource specialist for Midland Area Homes, and the person responsible for compiling and reporting the data from local agencies serving the homeless, commented on the numbers, “The total number is not much different from 2012, but the demographics have changed.”

The number who have been homeless more than one year has risen. “Last year there were 94. This year it’s 111,” Johnson said. The count of those in emergency shelters such as Shelterhouse, Open Door, and House of Mercy had also increased at the time of PIT, from 50 to 67.

The number of children affected by homelessness remains at about 30% of the total.

Loss of job or money is the biggest factor contributing to homelessness, trailed by substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness, and commission of a felony.

The Point in Time count, which the Michigan State Housing Development Agency (MSHDA) requires local communities to carry out each year, provides useful data to the Continuum of Care and the local service agencies which reach out to the homeless. “PIT gives us a snapshot of the numbers and the situations of the homeless in Midland County and helps determine what services and programs are needed,” Johnson said.

Midland County Continuum of Care is a united effort 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.

New Program Helps Ex-Offenders Return to Society

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

When offenders complete their prison sentences and return to society, where do they go? What happens to them?

95% of the time they go back to the community from which they came. The success or failure of their re-entry depends on having their basic needs met and on developing the skills needed to make it on the outside.

Without such support many ex-offenders soon go back to prison. According to the Pew Center on the States, 31% of Michigan prisoners released between 2004 and 2007 were re-incarcerated within three years.

Concern for ex-offenders’ well-being and successful rehabilitation when they return to society has prompted former law enforcement officer Rob Worsley to form Midland Community Former Offenders Advocacy and Rehabilitation (MCFOAR).

Through MCFOAR Worsley hopes to carry on and expand the work he did for the last four and a half years as Community Resource Specialist (CRS) with the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative (MPRI). Michigan Department of Correction’s funding for a full time (CRS) in Midland and Bay Counties was reduced to one full time CRS for both. This greatly reduces the accessibility and availability for resources for Midland County active parolees.

MCFOAR Director Rob Worsley


Worsley, a 25-year veteran of the Midland County Sheriff’s office, including service as jail administrator, connected with 100 or more ex-offenders in the Midland area through MRPI. Now he feels compelled to carry on the work through MCFOAR.

He describes MCFOAR, which he now serves program director, as a “one-stop shop” for former offenders. Its mission is two-fold: reduce recidivism in Midland County and make the community safer.

Worsley points out that ex-offenders, both former prisoners and county jail inmates, having adjusted to the completely controlled setting of incarceration, come back to their communities poorly equipped to function in society on their own. They lack coping and job skills and struggle to trust strangers.

MCFOAR’s program addresses the errant ways of ex-offenders upon their release from prison and provides them with essential tools to assist their successful transition into society. All ex-offenders living in Midland County are eligible for help with finding housing, food, clothing, medical and mental health referrals, employment readiness, addiction counseling, and mentoring.

MCFOAR is currently working with The Legacy Center to apply the concept of developmental assets to former offenders. The concept of developmental assets has been successfully implemented with adolescents to reduce delinquency and improve health outcomes for Midland County youth. A parallel approach with adults is anticipated to produce related outcomes.

Worsley has his office at 1415 Washington St. phone 989-832-8533. At present he is working without taking a wage or benefits while he seeks funding from local foundations, City of Midland block grant fund, and area faith-based organizations. Local agencies, including Caregiving Network, Open Door Ministries, and 1016 Recovery Network, work closely with MCFOAR.

MCFOAR operates under a 501c3 tax exemption status. Worsley welcomes inquiries from individuals and community groups.

Along with more than 20 agencies, MCFOAR participates in Midland County Continuum of Care, working to prevent homelessness by providing housing-related services to those who are homeless or living in substandard housing.

HIV/AIDS patients face unique housing challenges

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

Stable housing is one vital key to helping individuals who have AIDS or are HIV positive receive the medical care
they need. Lacking a decent place to live, they are not likely to obtain adequate treatment.

“HIV/AIDS is killing people. Without treatment they will die,” said Tina Counterman, a social worker for the AIDS Care Program provided through Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center (SHRC).

Counterman’s role is four-fold: to connect AIDS/HIV positive individuals to treatment and payment for it, to help obtain transportation to medical care, to assist with finding stable housing, and to help people get testing.

“The good news is that the life-span of AIDS/HIV positive individuals is increasing where regular treatment is available,” Counterman said. “Every year one person makes changes they need to make it and live.”
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Project Housing Connect Links Help to Human Needs

On the morning after the Presidential election First United Methodist Church of Midland opened its doors for Project Housing Connect, a once-a-year, one-stop-shop linking homeless individuals and families and those at risk of homelessness to a wide array of helping services.

More than 200 people, young and old, many with small children in tow, came through the door to avail themselves of information and assistance from the the 25 human service organizations whose booths filled the church’s Fellowship Hall. Those who attended represent 162 households and 372 individuals.

MidMichigan Medical Center-Midland exercise physiologist helped with health screening at Project Housing Connect.


Attendance was about equal to last year’s event, although many more individuals benefited, according to Amanda Johnson, housing specialist at Midland Area Homes and coordinator of the Project on behalf the Midland County Continuum of Care.

In the busiest corner of the room people lined up to be screened for high blood pressure, diabetes, and bone density problems at tables staffed by employees of MidMichigan Medical Center-Midland. The next most active spot was an adjoining room where free haircuts were being given.

Volunteer Mark Burks explains the Jobs for Life employment readiness program offered locally at Our Redeemer Church.


Two new resources were offered this year. Bay Area Housing provides homebuyer education and foreclosure prevention counseling. Jobs for Life, a nationwide program providing a 16-session job readiness program for unemployed and underemployed individuals, is offered locally by volunteers at Our Redeemer Church.

The Open Door Ministries prepared free lunch which was served by volunteers, among whom were Mayor Maureen Donker, Circuit Judge Jon Lauderbach, State Representative Tony Stamas, and the Rev. Dr. J. D. Landis, senior pastor of the host church.

Midland Mayor Maureen Donker and Pastor J.D. Landis of First United Methodist Church helped serve the lunch prepared by Open Door Ministries.


Attendees who stopped to inquire at the tables at least five agencies received a bonus: admission to the giveaway rooms. There they could take advantage of free winter coats, hats, and gloves, blankets, shampoo, conditioner, soap, deodorant, laundry detergent, and food. Donations of these items play a major part in the success of the event.

Project Housing Connect is an annual event sponsored by Midland County Continuum of Care and the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. The Midland Continuum combines the efforts of 21 non-profit and governmental agencies to prevent homelessness by providing housing-related services to those who are homeless or living in substandard housing.

Community Action Agency Delivers Food Essentials to Low Income Seniors

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

Almost every working day of the month trucks drive away from Mid Michigan Community Action Agency’s (MMCAA) warehouse at a former lumber yard just west of Clare. The trucks are loaded with boxes of food essentials for delivery to one of many pickup points in ten central Michigan locations, including Midland County.

At the end of the month the trucks will have carried more than 3,700 of the boxes to low-income seniors and mothers with young children.

Sharla Mitchell


On two days of the month the trucks come to Midland County and stop at West Michigan Family Center and the Midland Evangelical Free Church. Eligible recipients come to either of the sites where volunteers pass out approximately 360 of the boxes designated for Midland County, according to Sharla Mitchell, a 28-year employee of MMCAA, who has managed the nutrition program for 12 years.

Senior Services (Midland County Council on Aging) volunteers deliver the boxes to Charter Square, Cleveland Manor, Greenhills, and Washington Woods to those who are unable to get to the distribution sites.

Special education students pack food boxes at MMCAA warehouse.


The boxes of food, packed by special education students from the Clare-Gladwin Regional Educational District, contain cheese, cereal, canned fruits and vegetables, canned meats, peanut butter, non-fat dry and evaporated milk, and juices. “The program has become much more nutrition-conscious in recent years,” Mitchell said. “The items have lower sodium and contain less sugar and fat than before.”

The distribution is made possible by a United States Department of Agriculture effort called The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) adopted by Congress in the 1970’s. CSFP is a Federally-funded program to supplement the diets of low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women, other new mothers up to one year postpartum, infants, children up to age six, and elderly people 60 years and above.

Seniors make up 90% of the recipients, MItchell said. Household size and household monthly income determine eligibility. For example, the income of a senior living alone may not exceed $1,210 per month. For a mother and two children under 6 the income limit is $2,943 per month.

Without local cooperation and volunteers the program wouldn’t work. “I don’t know what we’d do without churches and lodges like the Eagles, the VFW, who let us use their parking lots and facilities,” said Mitchell. “We get great cooperation.”

Word of the program is spread through advertising, world of mouth, flyers, and referrals from other human service agencies. Nevertheless, the number of recipients has declined somewhat. “The income eligibility requirements have been tightened,” Mitchell said.

Managing the huge stock of food filling the warehouse is a big job, requiring advance planning and ordering. “Fruit juices, for example, must be ordered a year and a half ahead of time so the growers can plan ahead, ” said Mitchell. “The same is true of pasta, beans, cheese, and cereals.”

Food items not needed for the regular monthly operation do not go to waste. They are given to food pantries throughout the MMCAA service area.

MMCAA participates in Midland County Continuum of Care, a collaboration of more than 20 agencies working to prevent homelessness by providing housing-related services to those who are homeless or living in substandard housing.

MMCAA website: http://mmcaa.org