There is an abundance of resources available for Michigan's unhoused population, especially during the pandemic. Photo via Shutterstock
There is an abundance of resources available for Michigan's unhoused population, especially during the pandemic.

Local organizations are exceeding capacity to help Michigan families find shelter from the cold and the coronavirus.

MICHIGAN—As Michiganders grapple with a typically tough winter in even harsher 2020 conditions, one group is particularly vulnerable this season: families who have struggled with housing in the pandemic. 

Family Promise of Grand Rapids, a non-profit emergency shelter funded by private donors and federal grants serving children and families experiencing a housing crisis, is helping double the amount of families in 2020.

Director of Development and Community Engagement Officer Kate O’Keefe said they are now assisting 70 families. The COVID-19 pandemic paired with Kent County’s lack of affordable housing have created huge obstacles for clients, she explained. 

“We want to provide families with housing solutions especially during the pandemic because no mom sits around in a shelter and thinks ‘I’m good, this is good,’” said O’Keefe. “Instead, we’re about getting families home,” she said.

Meeting a New Kind of Need in Michigan 

Located about 100 miles east of Grand Rapids is Shelter of Flint, an emergency shelter program that serves single women, male and female single parents, and two parent households. The shelter also works with those in need to connect them with resources to help solve the root cause of their homelessness.

The shelter is also observing the same trend as Family Promise — single-parent families in need of housing.

In some cases, some of the families have been at the shelter since the pandemic began nine months ago.

“There’s a huge backlog within government agencies providing assistance to families in need, and there’s also a huge backlog with contractors working to get homes prepped for families to move in right now too,” said Grants and Fund Development Officer Shelly Hoffman.

Before the pandemic, Shelter of Flint could provide accommodations for 75 people. At the beginning of the pandemic, that number was cut in half in order to give clients the space they needed to adhere to social distancing guidelines issued by the CDC to ensure safety during the pandemic.

However, the need for shelter grew during the summer months. Hoffman said administrative staff were moved out of the facility in order to help more families and individuals.

Now that the weather is growing colder and COVID-19 cases are spiking across Genesee County, capacity at the shelter is a concern once more.

“We’re really going to have to play it by ear,” said Hoffman.

The shelter is also working hard to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect their clients from contracting the virus, but they also have the ability to provide care for those who test positive or show symptoms for COVID-19 as well.

“We have two COVID-19 wards set up in the facility for anyone who reports having symptoms or anyone who has tested positive,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman said that while there hasn’t been an outbreak at the facility, the shelter did recently admit a homeless individual who had tested positive for COVID-19.

“This is the first person we’ve provided shelter for who has tested positive for COVID-19,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman said the individual will stay in the COVID-19 isolation ward.

Hoffman added that Shelter of Flint didn’t want to turn the individual away because it’s the shelter’s duty to provide resources for the homeless, especially during a pandemic.

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How Shelters Are Coping 

It’s important to note that those facing homelessness or who are already homeless are at risk of being infected with COVID-19 according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

But emergency shelters across Michigan were ready to help, putting COVID-19 protocols in place which include masking up, sanitizing common areas and asking clients to fill out a questionnaire upon intake in order to keep their staff and clients safe.

More importantly — emergency shelters continue to provide assistance and clean, safe spaces eight months into this pandemic even after seeing an uptick in need within their respective communities.

O’Keefe said some clients seeking assistance from Family Promise include women of color who are underemployed single mothers who have two or three children under the age of seven.

She added that some clients also reported living with family members before the pandemic, but were asked to leave due to them working in the service industry and possibly being exposed to COVID-19 on the clock.

Family Promise works hard to provide safe living environments for families who may be struggling with a housing crisis during the pandemic in a couple of different ways: the first example is paying for a family’s hotel room until they can find permanent housing since the shelter had to cut capacity due to COVID-19 guidelines from the CDC.

The second is through their Partners in Housing program. The program involves Family Promise buying a manufactured home. On average, these homes cost about $10,000. Then Family Promise volunteers start remodeling and rehabbing the home, which usually includes repainting the home and installing new carpeting. After they’ve finished, Family Promise gifts the title of the home to a family in need so they own it outright —that way the family only has to pay lot rent when moving into a mobile home community.

Coordinated Assessment Model (CAM) Detroit is also focused on providing resources for the homeless or those who are about to be homeless during the pandemic.

CAM serves as a centralized point of reference for emergency shelters in Detroit.

CAM Manager Catherine Distelrath said the organization refers homeless individuals and families to a group of 12 shelters throughout the city, depending on their needs. This list can be found under our resources section in this article.

A New Surge in Housing Issues 

According to data from Michigan’s Homeless Management Information System which can be found on the Michigan State Housing and Development Authority (MSHDA) website, there was a decline in the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Michigan in 2019. The state reports that 61,832 people reported being homeless that year, and that 65,104 people reported being homeless in 2018. 

The state also reported a decline in family, youth and veteran homelessness in 2019.  

However, that won’t be the case for 2020 due to the COVID-19 and record joblessness in the state. 

Imagine being told to shelter in place during a global pandemic with nowhere to go.

That is the harsh reality homeless Michiganders faced when Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued her “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order in response to the first confirmed COVID-19 cases earlier this year.

Since then, cases have exploded. Nearly 8,000 deaths and more than 251,000 cases were reported in Michigan on November 14. More than 245,000 deaths and 10 million cases have been reported in the United States according to Johns Hopkins University. There have been more than 1.3 million deaths and 54 million cases reported globally, and the pandemic is only getting worse.

Joblessness also remains an area of concern. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Michigan reported a record high unemployment rate of 24% in April after public venues such as bars, gyms, movie theaters, and schools were forced to shut down under Gov. Whitmer’s stay home order.

Even though public venues were eventually able to reopen this summer, it doesn’t mean everyone returned to work, which also put many people at risk of becoming homeless.

Some people were forced to stay home and care for their children or relatives while others had to leave their job because of COVID-19 concerns because employers had trouble obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE) at the height of the pandemic. Other people’s hours were cut or their jobs were eliminated altogether.

“The pandemic created additional challenges and vulnerabilities for Michiganders,” said Kelly Rose, chief housing solutions officer and chair of the Michigan Interagency Council on Homelessness.

“Many experienced housing instabilities and found themselves for the first time, facing homelessness,” said Rose.

In order to protect Michiganders from being evicted at the beginning of the pandemic, Whitmer issued an executive order in March that banned tenants and mobile home owners from being evicted from their homes. That order was then extended until July. After that, the Eviction Diversion Program (EDP) was initiated and funded from Senate Bill 690, which appropriated $880 million in federal dollars from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The CARES Act is a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on March 27 in response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.

The bill called for $60 million to be set aside to establish a rental assistance program. About $50 million was dedicated to keeping renters in their homes with the remaining $10 million covering case management, legal, and administrative costs.

Local emergency shelters were also able to obtain funding from the CARES Act, which created an additional lifeline for a vulnerable population.

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RESOURCES

If you are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless, there are places you can turn to for emergency shelter and aid. We’ve compiled a list of places to check with below:

Western Michigan

Family Promise of Grand Rapids | 516 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Mel Trotter Ministries | 225 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Degage Ministries | 144 Division Ave. S., Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Guiding Light Mission for Men | 255 Division Ave. S., Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Open Doors Kalamazoo | 1141 S. Rose St. Ste B, Kalamazoo, MI 49001

Kalamazoo Gospel Ministries | 448 N. Burdick St., Kalamazoo, MI 49007

Ministry with Community | 500 N. Edwards S.t., Kalamazoo, MI 49007

Lansing Area

City Rescue Mission of Lansing | 2216 S. Cedar St., Lansing, MI 48910

Haven House | 121 Whitehills Dr, East Lansing, MI 48823

Homeless Angels | 3216 W. Main St., Lansing, MI 48917

Loaves and Fishes | 831 N. Sycamore St., Lansing, MI 48906 

Mid-Michigan

Shelter of Flint | 924 Cedar St, Flint, MI 48503

YWCA of Flint | 801 S Saginaw St., Flint, MI 48502

My Brother’s Keeper | 101 N.Grand Traverse St., Flint, MI 48503

Carriage Town Ministries | 605 Garland St, Flint, MI 48503

The Refuge Homeless Shelter of Lapeer | 55 W. Nepessing St., Lapeer, MI 48446

City Rescue Mission of Saginaw | 1021 Burt St,, Saginaw, MI 48607

Mustard Seed | 1325 Cherry St., Saginaw, MI 48601

Southeastern Michigan

South Oakland Shelter | 18505 W. 12 Mile Rd., Lathrup Village, MI 48076

Grace Centers of Hope | 35 E. Huron St., Pontiac 48342

Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries | Multiple locations

Operation Get Down | 10100 Harper Ave., Detroit, MI 48213 

Neighborhood Service Organization | 882 Oakman Blvd Ste, C, Detroit 

Coalition on Temporary Shelter | 26 Peterboro St., Detroit, MI 48201

Covenant House | 2959 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Detroit 48208

READ: Gov. Whitmer’s Tips for Keeping Michiganders Safe This Holiday Season