Stories indexed with the term ‘homelessness’

County Issues Call for Winter Warming Space

The Washtenaw County office of community & economic development and the Washtenaw Housing Alliance are seeking suggestions for sites that can be used during the upcoming winter months as warming spaces for the homeless.

In a press release issued on Aug. 22, the OCED described a list of specifications needed for these sites [.pdf of press release]:

  • Include a single room to accommodate approximately 50 adults lying down on thick mats (approximately 1,500 square feet)
  • Be accessible to limited-mobility individuals
  • Have multiple, accessible bathrooms on site
  • Ideally equipped with showers and/or a kitchen prep space
  • Space should be available every night of the week (roughly 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.) minimally from January 1 to March 31, 2015 – with potential to begin earlier than … [Full Story]

Next Phase Starts to Help Homeless

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners has voted to accept the report and recommendations of a task force that’s been working on a funding strategy to help end homelessness. The board’s action – taken on July 9, 2014 – also sunsets that task force.

The leadership group for the Task Force on Sustainable Revenues for Supportive Housing Services to End Homelessness made a presentation at the board’s May 22, 2014 working session. Their recommendations include the goal of building a $50 million endowment over 20 years. Payouts from the endowment would fund supportive services – such as treatment for mental illness and substance abuse – with the intent of addressing the root causes of homelessness. The concept is called permanent supportive … [Full Story]

Task Force: Millage, Endowment for Housing

An ambitious plan to help the homeless – by creating 500 or more units of housing with support services, paid for through a millage and endowment fund – was presented to Washtenaw County commissioners at their May 22 working session.

Bob Guenzel, Mary Jo Callan, Norm Herbert, Washtenaw County, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Former Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel and Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office community & economic development, talk with former University of Michigan treasurer Norm Herbert before the start of the May 22, 2014 county board working session. Guenzel and Herbert are members of a task force on supportive housing. (Photos by the writer.)

The leadership team of the Task Force on Sustainable Revenues for Supportive Housing Services briefed commissioners on their recommendations, including the goal of building a $50 million endowment over 20 years. Payouts from the endowment would fund supportive services – such as treatment for mental illness and substance abuse – with the intent of addressing the root causes of homelessness. The concept is called permanent supportive housing, and is part of the community’s broader Blueprint to End Homelessness, which was created in 2004 and is being updated.

A possible millage – recommended at 0.25 mills, for no more than 20 years – would help fund supportive services while the endowment is built. County commissioners are being asked to consider putting such a millage on the ballot, possibly in 2015.

Former county administrator Bob Guenzel, a task force member, told commissioners that the task force believes this approach “is absolutely the right thing to do, to end homelessness and keep people housed. We feel very strongly about that. It’s a moral issue.” There’s also a strong business case for this approach when looking at the cost of emergency services and the criminal justice system, compared to the cost of permanent supportive housing, he said.

Several steps have already been taken to achieve these goals. An endowment was established in 2011, with $2.1 million in commitments so far. That amount includes a $1 million gift from the St. Joseph Mercy Health System to create the endowment, which is called the Sister Yvonne Gellise Fund for Supportive Services for Housing. Gellise is the former CEO of St. Joe’s. She’s on the task force and is a founding board member of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance. Another $1 million commitment comes from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF), where the endowment is housed. AAACF Cheryl Elliott is another task force member. In addition, an anonymous donor has contributed $100,000.

The first fund distribution – of $26,100 – will be made this fall in a competitive grant process. AAACF’s distribution committee – an all-volunteer group – will be responsible for making grant recommendations.

AAACF is also helping provide a three-year, part-time development job to support fundraising for this endowment. Funding for the position will come from the Washtenaw Housing Alliance ($25,000), the AAACF ($5,000) and an anonymous donor ($10,000).

The foundation will post this position in early June, Elliott reported, with the intent of making a hire as soon as possible. The position would be in place until at least mid-2017. The employee will report to AAACF’s vice president for development and donor services, and to the Sister Yvonne Gellise Fund development committee. Members of that committee are the same people who’ve served on the leadership team of the task force, Elliott said. In addition to herself, members are Bob Chapman, Sister Yvonne Gellise, Bob Guenzel, Norm Herbert and Dave Lutton. They hope to get an additional two or three members, she said.

The next steps in this process include a request to the county board to sunset the task force at the June 4 board meeting. The board will also be asked to consider the task force’s recommendation for a millage. “Please use this year and into 2015 to set a millage strategy,” Elliott said.

The task force also stressed the importance of a public outreach and education effort, to help build awareness and support for the endowment.

The task force presentation was attended by five of the county’s nine commissioners. During their discussion, Conan Smith (D-District 9) expressed interest in having the county bond for this initiative – either for the full $50 million, or some portion of that amount. The county now has a triple-A bond rating, Smith noted. [That news had been announced earlier in the day. In general, higher ratings allow organizations to secure better terms for borrowing funds.] “This gives us an opportunity… to actually have some real impact in the community,” Smith said.

Task force members indicated that they hadn’t considered the option of bonding, and Elliott had some concerns about whether it would be legal to use taxpayer dollars for an endowment. They plan to explore the possibility, including consultation with legal counsel. [Full Story]

County Board Continues Weighing Road Tax

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (May 7, 2014): Two topics dominated a four-hour meeting: possible funding options for road repair, and an update on how the community is addressing homelessness.

Curtis Hedger, Dan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Washtenaw County corporation counsel Curtis Hedger and commissioner Dan Smith (R-District 2). (Photos by the writer.)

Following a lengthy discussion, commissioners voted to set a public hearing about a possible countywide road millage. The hearing will be held at their meeting on May 21 so that the public can give input on a proposal to levy up to 1 mill for roads in 2014. The tax would be levied under Act 283 of 1909.

No final decision is expected at the May 21 meeting about levying a tax – although a resolution to levy a 1-mill tax is on the May 21 agenda for initial consideration.

Commissioners all appeared to support finding a way to secure more road funding, but some voiced concern about process and timing – especially because a tax under Act 283 would be levied without voter approval.

The May 7 discussion began when Dan Smith (R-District 2) brought forward a resolution that would authorize levying a 1 mill tax – under Act 283 – in December 2014. It would generate $14.34 million “to repair 2013–14 winter damage to the roads, streets and paths in Washtenaw County.” The board ultimately voted to postpone the resolution until May 21 over dissent from Alicia Ping (R-District 3).

During the wide-ranging discussion, Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) expressed concern that the public hadn’t yet been informed about the Act 283 proposal. At the request of board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8), Roy Townsend – managing director of the county road commission – had prepared a list of road projects that could be funded by an Act 283 millage, which was distributed at the May 7 meeting. Townsend and two of the three road commissioners – Barb Fuller and Bill McFarlane – attended the May 7 meeting, and Townsend fielded questions from the board.

Corporation counsel Curtis Hedger cautioned that Act 283 lays out a specific process, which calls for a presentation of proposed road projects at a meeting in late September or October, prior to the December levy. Responding to those concerns, Dan Smith noted that options might include passing a resolution this month or in June to indicate the board’s intent to levy the tax, then possibly using money from the general fund’s fund balance to pay for road work this summer. The fund balance would be reimbursed when the tax revenues are collected in December. Hedger pointed out a risk in that approach: If someone sues the county and a court issues an injunction, then the county might be unable to levy the tax – after already spending general fund dollars.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) supported the Act 283 tax. “I’m almost of a mindset of ‘Let’s do it’ – and if someone wants to sue us over it, you know, then when they file a lawsuit we can reconsider,” he said. Smith preferred the Act 283 levy over a ballot initiative that voters would be asked to approve, saying there are other funding proposals he’d rather put on the ballot – for public safety and human services.

The board discussion on this issue will continue at the May 21 meeting.

In other road-related items on the May 7 agenda, the board voted to accept the recommendations of a subcommittee that was appointed last year to explore options enabled by state legislators. The subcommittee had recommended not to make the road commission part of county operations, and not to make the job of road commissioner an elected position.

The May 7 meeting also included an update about the community’s approach to addressing homelessness. The briefing was in response to a board directive given to staff on April 2, 2014 to develop a plan for updating the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness. The blueprint was adopted in 2004. The process of updating that plan is to be completed by Oct. 1, 2014.

Responding to information that there’s been an increase in people from outside of Washtenaw County coming to the Delonis Center shelter in Ann Arbor, Conan Smith cautioned against making that kind of distinction, saying it “dehumanized” people who are seeking help, regardless of where they’re from.

Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office of community & economic development, told Smith that his point was well taken. But she noted that unless the state asks other communities to provide something close to the level of support that Washtenaw County provides, “then it’s an issue of volume. I’m sorry, but it’s not about dehumanizing.” Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, noted that 96% of the shelter’s budget comes from local public funding, and the shelter was built for people who became homeless in Washtenaw County. She said it was her job “to hold that line.”

During the May 7 meeting, commissioners also gave initial approval to allocate funding to local nonprofits as part of a coordinated funding approach for human services, in partnership with several other local funders. The county is one of the original five partners in the coordinated funding approach. Other partners are city of Ann Arbor, United Way of Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Urban County, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.

This year, 105 applications were submitted by 50 local organizations totaling $8,732,389 in requested funding, according to a staff memo. A review committee recommended that 57 programs receive a total of $4,321,494 in available funding. Of that amount, the county is providing $1.015 million. Among the organizations that are being funded in this cycle are Corner Health Center, Interfaith Hospitality Network of Washtenaw County, Child Care Network, Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw, Food Gatherers and Legal Services of South Central Michigan. Several nonprofit leaders spoke during public commentary in support of this process, as did Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers.

In other action, the board appointed Ellen Rabinowitz as health officer for the Washtenaw public health department; passed a resolution calling for an increase in Michigan’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour; and received a first-quarter budget update from the county’s finance staff. First-quarter projections tend to be conservative, because they’re based on only three months of the year, with limited evidence of budget trends. At this point, the 2014 general fund is projected to have a $70,230 shortfall by year’s end – with total revenues of $103,404,537 and total expenditures of $103,474,767. There is no planned use of fund balance for this year’s budget. [Full Story]

County Weighs Response to Homelessness

At their May 7, 2014 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners were briefed on possible responses to homelessness and a lack of affordable housing in this community. The briefing was in response to a board directive given to staff on April 2, 2014 to develop a plan for updating the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness. The Blueprint  was adopted in 2004. The process of updating that plan is to be completed by Oct. 1, 2014.

The May 7 presentation was given by three different staff: Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office of community and economic development; Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, which runs the Delonis Center homeless shelter; and Amanda Carlisle, director of the … [Full Story]

County Board Discusses Homelessness

After about 90 minutes of discussion on an item not originally on its April 2, 2014 agenda, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners took steps to address short-term and long-term needs of the homeless.

The board voted to direct county administrator Verna McDaniel to work with community partners to address immediate needs of the homeless. [In general, McDaniel has budgetary discretion to spend up to $50,000 on professional services contracts, and up to $100,000 for any proposed goods, services, new construction or renovation.] The resolution also directs the administration to develop a plan by May 7 for updating the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness, which was adopted in 2004 but appears to be dormant. The process of updating that plan is to be … [Full Story]

County Board Briefed on Shelter Services

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (Feb. 6, 2014): Following a large turnout of homeless advocates at their Jan. 22, 2014 meeting, county commissioners received an update from the leader of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, which operates the Delonis Center shelter near downtown Ann Arbor.

Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, Delonis Center, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Billboard on West Huron, facing eastbound traffic, to seek support for the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County. The Delonis Center homeless shelter is located across the street. (Photos by the writer.)

Ellen Schulmeister, the Shelter Association’s executive director, called this season “The Winter of Great Effort,” with harsher weather and more demand for services. She described efforts to shelter the homeless in the short term, but noted that the broader goal is to find housing and provide support services to eliminate chronic homelessness.

Schulmeister reported that the county’s funding to the Delonis Center had been cut during the economic downturn, and she hoped that levels would increase. ”We need you to do that,” she said.

Washtenaw County government owns the building where the Delonis Center is located, and pays for maintenance. In addition, the county provided $51,230 for the Delonis Center in 2013 and increased that amount to $160,000 this year. The county funding is set to increase again to $200,000 in 2015 and remain at that level through 2017. The Shelter Association’s annual budget is $2.583 million.

Yousef Rabhi, chair of the county board, called the Delonis Center’s work ”inspirational,” but noted that the issue needs to be addressed by the entire community. He’s working to organize a summit, bringing together stakeholders from the government, nonprofits and other entities working to end homelessness. Rabhi said the effort should include representatives from the Ann Arbor District Library – because the downtown library serves as a de facto shelter during the day, even though that’s not the library’s purpose.

Schulmeister agreed on the importance of partnerships, adding that the barriers also include a lack of affordable housing and jobs. “It takes a community to house someone – it really does,” she said.

The Feb. 6 working session also included an update from Barbara Niess-May, executive director of SafeHouse Center, a shelter for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. As with the Delonis Center, the county also owns the SafeHouse building and pays for maintenance, as well as providing funding for the nonprofit’s services.

Niess-May told commissioners that she’s been doing this work for 20 years, but this is the worst time for funding she’s seen for these kinds of programs. She pointed out that funding from the county has dropped to $48,000 annually through 2017, and she hoped that the amount could be increased. The total SafeHouse budget is $1.4 million.

Dan Smith (R-District 2) noted that the number of people that SafeHouse serves each year – more than 5,000 – represents almost 2% of the county’s population. He highlighted the fact that Washtenaw County has fewer domestic violence homicides per capita than any other county in the state. To him, a statistic like that directly connects to the county’s mandates because of the clear reduction of work load on the court system and jail, as well as the number of lives saved. He considered SafeHouse part of the county’s mandate for public safety and justice.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) observed that the board has discussed the option of a human services millage that would support services like those that SafeHouse offers. He encouraged Niess-May to include the county’s funding cuts as part of her communications to others in the community. It might lead them to support raising additional revenue for SafeHouse and other organizations, he said.  [Full Story]

Future of County’s Platt Road Site Debated

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Feb. 5, 2014): Two items drew most of the debate during the county board’s recent meeting: Dealing with the future use of county-owned property on Platt Road, and hiring a contract worker to help with the budget process.

Jeannine Palms, Andy LaBarre, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jeannine Palms, who served on a citizens advisory committee to make recommendations for the county-owned property at 2260-2270 Platt Road, talks with commissioner Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), who helped lead that effort. Palms spoke during public commentary to praise the process and urge commissioners to adopt the recommendations. (Photos by the writer.)

A citizens advisory committee made recommendations for the 13.5-acre site at 2260-2270 Platt Road, and included the desire to use a portion of the land for affordable housing. Inclusion of affordable housing is a condition for accepting a $100,000 planning grant from the state, and that condition worried some commissioners. Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was particularly vocal in disagreeing with this approach. He suggested selling the land instead, then using the proceeds to pay for repairs and renovations of existing houses in the county, including those for sale through tax foreclosure auctions.

The board voted to give initial approval to the Platt Road recommendations, over dissent from Sizemore. A final vote is expected on Feb. 19. If approved, the county would then launch a much broader community planning process to determine the future use of that site.

Also debated at length was a proposal to hire a contract worker who would support budget-related work for the county board and administration. Commissioners had also discussed this issue during the board’s Jan. 22, 2014 meeting, when Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) questioned the process for hiring this kind of staff support. On Feb. 5, several commissioners expressed concern about spending money on this position and wanted more details about funding and duties. Those concerns led to a unanimous vote to postpone the item until March 5.

A proposal to create a dental clinic for low-income residents received initial approval on Feb. 5, over dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2). The $1.5 million project includes partnering with the nonprofit Michigan Community Dental Clinics Inc. to run the clinic and with St. Joseph Mercy Health System, which would contribute space at its Haab Building in Ypsilanti at little to no cost. A final vote is expected on Feb. 19.

In other action, the board gave final approval to two items with no significant discussion: (1) creation of a new countywide program to help finance energy-efficiency projects for commercial properties – the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program; and (2) a new ordinance that allows the county to issue municipal civil infractions for owning an unlicensed dog. The county treasurer’s office – which is responsible for administering the dog licenses – expects to implement the changes in June or July, following an educational outreach effort.

Commissioners also passed a resolution urging Gov. Rick Snyder to use the state’s budget surplus in part for road repair, and approved a resolution honoring local attorney Jean Ledwith King for her service on the county’s historic district commission.

Commissioner Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) gave an update on efforts to address services to the homeless community. Advocates for the homeless had attended the board’s previous meeting, on Jan. 22, 2014. The board received a more detailed update on this situation at its Feb. 6 working session. That session will be covered in a separate Chronicle report. [Full Story]

AADL Retreat: Prep for Next Strategic Plan

Ann Arbor District Library board retreat (Feb. 3, 2014): For more than three hours, AADL trustees heard staff updates on industry trends, were briefed on challenges that the library faces – as well as opportunities – and discussed the kind of information and data that’s needed to prepare for AADL’s next strategic plan for 2015-2020.

Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A skeleton – wearing an Ann Arbor District Library T-shirt – was part of the non-traditional collections on display at the Feb. 3, 2014 AADL board retreat. (Photos by the writer.)

Discussion during the retreat, held at AADL’s downtown location on South Fifth Avenue, often touched on issues specific to that area. Dealing with the chronically homeless is one of the biggest challenges there, AADL director Josie Parker told the board, because during the hours that it’s open, the library is the shelter of last resort for many people.

“We are not a social service agency, yet we act as a de facto one,” Parker said. “We have a lot to contribute to this conversation because of our experience over the last 15 years.” The board discussed the need to define the library’s advocacy role in general for issues that trustees think are important, though Parker noted that the first responsibility for both the AADL administration and the board is to advocate for the library.

Other challenges faced by AADL include urban development, changes in the education system, issues related to providing Internet access, and “blurred lines” – instances where AADL is providing services to people who don’t live within the district’s boundaries. Also related to work outside the library’s boundaries, Parker reported that she’s talking with other directors of district libraries in Washtenaw County about the possibility of doing a study on the economic development impact of libraries.

The retreat began with a review of AADL’s non-traditional collections, and items from those collections were on display in the meeting room. The library has circulated art prints for more than 30 years, but has been expanding into other areas more recently, including science kits, musical instruments, home tools and craft equipment.

Parker told the board that the public library’s mission – to distribute materials that support the reading, education and even entertainment of the public – isn’t limited to bound volumes. The items for AADL’s non-traditional collections aren’t generally available to rent elsewhere, and are usually expensive to buy, she noted. “What are the limits of sharing? That’s what we’re pushing on.”

The final portion of the retreat was facilitated by local consultant Sandra Greenstone, who has played a similar role at previous retreats. Trustees generated a list of questions that they’d like to answer to help inform their work on the next strategic plan. Many of the issues related to the downtown library, but there was no discussion about putting another ballot proposal before voters. In November 2012, voters defeated a bond proposal that would have funded a new downtown library.

How all of this fits into the next strategic plan is a work in progress. The board will be handling the next steps at the committee level, with an update expected at the board’s Feb. 17 meeting. [Full Story]

Advocates for Homeless Appeal to County

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Jan. 22, 2014): About two dozen people – including members of Camp Misfit and Camp Take Notice – turned out at the county board’s Jan. 22 meeting to advocate for improved services for the homeless.

Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Some of the crowd at the Jan. 22, 2014 Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Speaking during public commentary, several people argued that the Delonis Center‘s warming center should be made available when temperatures are lower than 45 degrees. One woman presented a list of specific requests for expanded services at the homeless shelter, including 24-hour access to shower facilities and increased hours for access to laundry facilities.

There was no formal agenda item on this issue, but several commissioners agreed that the community needs to do more for the homeless. Conan Smith (D-District 9) noted that county had a 10-year plan to end homelessness, “and then we got socked by a terrible economy and made pretty dramatic reductions in the county’s spending.” [The Blueprint to End Homelessness was adopted in 2004 but appears to be dormant.]

The board ultimately voted to direct county administrator Verna McDaniel to address issues related to services for the homeless. They’ll be getting an update at their Feb. 6 working session from Ellen Schulmeister, director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, which runs the Delonis Center.

Alicia Ping (R-District 3) cautioned against the county overstepping its bounds, and pointed out that the shelter is run by a separate nonprofit – although the county owns and maintains the building where the shelter is located at 312 W. Huron in Ann Arbor, and contributes some funding. Ping noted that the county also currently pays the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority for several parking spaces used by Delonis Center employees, and suggested that the money might be better spent on direct services to the homeless. The county is continuing to negotiate its parking contract with the DDA.

Also at the Jan. 22 meeting, the board made a range of appointments, including confirmation of Dan Ezekiel, former Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commissioner, to replace Nelson Meade on the county parks & recreation commission. And former state legislator Alma Wheeler Smith was appointed to fill an opening on the southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA) board. Richard Murphy – one of two RTA board members from Washtenaw County – was not seeking reappointment. Smith was the only eligible applicant and is the mother of county commissioner Conan Smith, who abstained from the confirmation vote.

In addition, during the Jan. 22 meeting the board created a new committee to explore the cost to the county for providing employee health insurance coverage for autism. The board had received a staff presentation earlier in the evening about the possibility of offering such coverage.

In other action, the board gave initial approval to a proposed ordinance that would allow the county to issue municipal civil infractions for owning an unlicensed dog, with a final vote expected on Feb. 5. The ordinance could take effect 50 days after that, in late March, but county treasurer Catherine McClary indicated that her office would be looking to implement the changes in June or July. Several  commissioners advocated for educational outreach to ensure that residents – especially in rural areas – will be aware of the changes.

The board also gave initial approval to establish a countywide Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, after hearing from several people during public commentary who supported the effort. A final vote to establish the program is expected at the board’s Feb. 5 meeting. [Full Story]

A2: Homeless

Channel 7 Action News, Detroit’s NBC ABC affiliate, reports on concerns voiced by homeless people, living on public land near the Fuller Bridge in Ann Arbor, about being evicted from that spot, which they call “Troll Village.” The reporter interviews a man named John about the possible eviction: “You can move us. There will still be homeless people. It doesn’t solve a problem. I just want to live where I have my freedom.” [Source]

Cold City Cash for Edwards Brothers Land?

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Jan. 6, 2014): On a bitter cold night, Ann Arbor city councilmembers ended their first regular meeting of the year with an item not originally on their agenda. They passed a resolution that directs city administrator Steve Powers and city attorney Stephen Postema to gather information to help the city council determine whether to purchase the 16.7-acre Edwards Brothers Malloy property on South State Street.

Graph from showing the -12 F temperature at the start of the city council meeting.

Graph from showing the -12 F temperature at the start of the Jan. 6, 2014 city council meeting. (Image links to

The direction came after the city council met in a closed session for about half an hour. Councilmembers emerged to craft and then pass the resolution. It gives direction to explore options to make the purchase financially feasible. That means finding a way to finance a $12.8 million deal. The sale of the Edwards Brothers property on South State Street is currently pending to the University of Michigan for $12.8 million, in an agreement that was announced in a Nov. 27, 2013 press release. The business – a fourth-generation Ann Arbor publishing and printing firm – had signaled its intent to put the property on the market in late July.

The topic of the possible land acquisition ties in to an upcoming Jan. 13 city council work session about economic development.

At the start of the Jan. 6 meeting, the council got an update from three key staff members about the city’s response to the snowstorm that had hit the entire Midwest over the weekend.

From public services area administrator Craig Hupy they heard an update on snowplowing, which was continuing during the meeting. From police chief John Seto, they heard an update on the police department’s support for relocating residents of a housing complex after a water pipe burst. And from Mary Jo Callan, Washtenaw County’s director of the office of community and economic development, they heard an update on efforts to address the needs of the homeless population during the freezing weather.

Concern for how the homeless were faring was the topic of eight out of nine speakers who signed up for public commentary reserved time.

In its regular business agenda, the council dispatched two items leftover from its last meeting of 2013. One of those items was the official termination of a four-year-old memorandum of understanding with the University of Michigan for construction of the Fuller Road Station project. That item was voted through with little controversy, although mayor John Hieftje compared it to digging someone up who died a couple of years ago and re-burying them.

Fuller Road Station was a planned joint city/University of Michigan parking structure, bus depot and possible train station located at the city’s Fuller Park near the UM medical campus. The council had approved the MOU on Fuller Road Station at its Nov. 5, 2009 meeting on a unanimous vote. However, a withdrawal of UM from the project, which took place under terms of the MOU, was announced on Feb. 10, 2012.

The other item delayed from last year was a resolution assigning a specific cost to the removal of on-street metered parking spaces, in connection with future developments: $45,000 per space. That amount was based on the cost of constructing a new parking space in a structure. After the policy was amended during the Jan. 6 meeting, it included a requirement that lost revenue also be compensated, based on projections of revenue for the space for the next 10 years. An average parking meter in the system generates $2,000 in annual income.

Apart from those previously delayed items, the rest of the council’s agenda was mainly filled with future development.

Accounting for two of the council’s Jan. 6 voting items was Traverwood Apartments – a First Martin development on the city’s north side. The site is located on the west side of Traverwood Drive, north of Plymouth Road. The council gave final approval of some rezoning necessary for the complex of 16 two-story buildings. And on a separate vote, the council gave site plan approval and a wetland use permit associated with the apartment complex.

The council also approved the upward expansion of the Montgomery Ward building on South Fourth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor. The estimated $3.8 million project will expand the existing 17,273-square-foot building – a former Montgomery Ward’s department store – to 38,373 square feet, with housing on the second through fifth floors.

And finally, the council approved the site plan and development agreement for two restaurants at Briarwood Mall. The restaurants – one at 6,470 square feet, the other at 7,068 square feet – will be constructed on the east side of the Macy’s building. The restaurants would be operated by two chains: P.F. Chang’s and Bravo! Cucina Italiana.

As part of the consent agenda, the council approved agreements with Sprint for placing antennas at four facilities: the Plymouth Road water tower, the Manchester Road water tower, the Ann-Ashley parking structure, and the water treatment plant on Sunset Road. The contracts are being revised upwards to $45,000 a year at each location, with 4% annual escalators.

The council also approved appointments to the Ann Arbor Summer Festival board of directors.

Members of a pedestrian safety task force, established late last year, were also nominated at the meeting. A confirmation vote will come at the council’s meeting on Jan. 21. Related at least indirectly to that, city administrator Steve Powers has provided the council with the first part of his response to the council’s direction in connection with the city’s updated non-motorized transportation plan. [Full Story]

County Gets Grant for Medicaid Outreach

Washtenaw County commissioners have authorized receipt of a $665,704 grant to pay for two outreach workers with the Washtenaw Health Plan (WHP), who will focus on increasing children’s participation in federal Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), known as children’s Medicaid. The action took place during the Aug. 7, 2013 meeting of the county board of commissioners.

The grant covers a two-year period, from July 15, 2013 through July 14, 2015. It will fund a county public health and WHP program called Coverage Counts: Connecting Teens, Immigrant and Homeless Families to Insurance. The program will operate in Washtenaw and Livingston counties. According to a staff memo, 5,000 children are currently eligible for Medicaid and 5,100 parents will become eligible for … [Full Story]

County Tax Hike for Economic Development?

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Sept. 5, 2012): Board chair Conan Smith has floated a proposal to raise taxes that support economic development and agricultural programs, and suggested revising the way those revenues are administered.

The proposal came in the context of an initial board vote to levy an annual tax of 0.05 mills, unchanged from the current rate. The Michigan statute authorizing this millage (Act 88 of 1913) predates the state’s Headlee Amendment, so no voter approval is required. The board can levy the tax directly.

Ken Schrader, PC technician with Washtenaw County

Ken Schrader, a PC technician with Washtenaw County, explained to the county commissioners that recently installed new microphones are more sensitive than the older ones. He jokingly warned them that they should be careful what they say now, because “you can’t take anything back.” Later in the meeting, the county’s information technology department was presented with an award from the Center for Digital Government.

The current rate is expected to bring in about $683,095 in 2013, and is allocated to a variety of organizations, including the economic development agency Ann Arbor SPARK ($200,000) and its Ypsilanti office SPARK East ($50,000). Smith and county administrator Verna McDaniel serve on SPARK’s executive committee.

Smith, a Democrat from Ann Arbor, suggested that by raising the rate to 0.06 mills, property owners would see only a slight increase in their annual taxes. For the average taxpayer, he estimated it would increase from $4.25 to $5.10 per year, while the amount raised countywide would increase about 20% to $838,577. He also proposed that the office of community and economic development – a joint county/city of Ann Arbor department led by Mary Jo Callan – should be given the authority to allocate the funding, rather than having the county board earmark amounts for specific organizations.

No formal amendment was made, but Smith circulated a three-page memo the following night outlining his proposal. [.pdf of Smith's Act 88 memo] It’s likely the board will take up this proposal as an amendment before a final vote at its Sept. 19 meeting. Initial approval was given on Sept. 5 for the current rate of 0.05 mills on a 7-to-3 vote, with dissent from Alicia Ping, Wes Prater, and Dan Smith. Ronnie Peterson was absent.

Another pre-Headlee tax – for support of indigent veterans – also got initial approval from the board, at a slightly increased rate. The initial approval increases that tax from 0.025 mills to 0.0286 mills. Staff of the county’s department of veterans affairs say the increase is needed because of rising claims and services from veterans due to a struggling economy, an anticipated increase in the number of returning soldiers, and a drop in property values. The millage is expected to raise $390,340 in revenues during 2013.

In other action related to tax revenue, commissioners gave initial approval to an ordinance governing the county’s natural areas preservation program. The change would remove the current restriction that only 7% of millage funds can be used for management or stewardship. The intent is to provide more flexibility in managing the funds, allowing the county to build a reserve for long-term stewardship. It’s viewed as an important goal, in the event that the NAPP millage is eliminated in the future. Yousef Rabhi, a Democrat who represents District 11 in Ann Arbor, proposed an amendment that would set a minimum of 25% to be spent on stewardship. The amendment failed on a 1-9 vote.

In an item viewed largely as a formality, county commissioners “ratified” the articles of incorporation for a new countywide transit authority. The document had been slightly revised from what the board had previously approved on Aug. 1, 2012 – on a 6-4 vote. This time, the vote was 6-3, with dissent from Alicia Ping, Wes Prater and Dan Smith. Rolland Sizemore Jr. and Ronnie Peterson were absent. Rob Turner, who had previously voted against the articles of incorporation, supported the item on Sept. 5.

Also approved was a resolution to support a policy change in the city of Ann Arbor related to affordable housing. The item was added to the Sept. 5 agenda during the meeting by Democrat Leah Gunn of Ann Arbor, and was not discussed by commissioners at the meeting. The resolution “encourages the Ann Arbor City Council to direct proceeds from the sale of the city-owned surface parking lots in the downtown to the city’s Housing Trust Fund, to be used to support sustainable, affordable housing.” [Earlier in the day, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board had passed a similar resolution of support. Gunn is chair of the DDA.] Dan Smith abstained from the vote. The following night, at a board working session, Alicia Ping announced that she had intended to vote against it, but had cited the wrong agenda number in casting her no vote.

Other action at the Sept. 5 meeting included initial approval of the county’s public health budget, which projects a 3.5 net increase in jobs. Voting against the budget were Alicia Ping and Dan Smith, who cautioned against adding new jobs as the county faces a deficit in 2013. A final vote is expected at the board’s Sept. 19 meeting.

Seth Best, a former resident of Camp Take Notice, addressed the board during public commentary about the need to tackle the root causes of homelessness. The homeless encampment had been evicted this summer from its most recent site in Scio Township.

And highlighting a letter that the county had recently received, commissioner Felicia Brabec raised concerns about the intent of Paxton Resources LLC to drill an exploratory oil and gas well in Saline Township. The board will likely revisit the issue of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” at a future working session. Yousef Rabhi, who chairs those meetings, suggested wrapping it into a session he plans regarding the Pall/Gelman Sciences 1,4 dioxane plume. He sees a tie-in to the issue of industrial environmental contamination. [Full Story]

Funds OK’d for Camp Take Notice Residents

At their June 6, 2012 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners authorized a grant agreement for up to $60,000 in emergency housing assistance for residents facing eviction from Camp Take Notice, a homeless encampment on state-owned land in Scio Township. The funds will come from the Salvation Army of Michigan, to be provided to the county’s Barrier Busters Unmet Needs Fund. No general fund dollars will be used.

According to a staff memo, residents living in Camp Take Notice have been told by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation – which owns the land off of Wagner Road, where the camp is located – that they’ll need to leave by June 22. Several community groups – including the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, the county’s … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council: Land, Water, Buildings

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Feb. 21, 2012): Land use was one common theme that trickled through the city council’s relatively short meeting.

Amtrak Station

The Ann Arbor city council gave initial approval to new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps at its Feb. 21 meeting. The council briefly touched on the topic of the current location of the Amtrak train station, which is in the floodplain (green area). The dark red is a building (Gandy Dancer) that was previously not analyzed as within the floodplain, but now is analyzed as such – similarly for parcels colored bright red. (Image links to higher resolution file with legend.)

The council denied a rezoning request from the owners of Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky, located on South State Street near the Produce Station, that would have allowed them to use the property for a retail operation larger than what currently exists. But the council did give initial approval to a rezoning request from the Society of Les Voyageurs that will allow the group to make an addition to their house, which is located near the Argo Dam.

At the other end of the spectrum from development, the council also took action that will allow the city to move quickly to demolish buildings that are derelict, posing a safety risk to the community. The council authorized the allocation of $250,000 from the general fund to pay upfront costs for the demolition of such structures. The city expects to be able to replenish the money out of a lawsuit settlement it won previously against the owner of the former Michigan Inn. The city will also eventually be able to recover its costs from property owners whose buildings require demolition.

Also related to possible future construction on land throughout the city, as well as the insurance for existing buildings, was the council’s initial approval of new federal flood maps. The most recent maps date from 1992. The new maps being considered for approval by the city were created out of a process begun by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Throughout the city, 452 structures are no longer analyzed as lying within a floodplain, while 88 buildings are newly analyzed as in a floodplain, according to the new maps.

Floods are one of the natural disasters that the city’s new emergency management director, Rick Norman, will be responsible for preparing the city to handle. The council formally authorized Norman’s appointment at their meeting.

In resolutions that required expenditures of funds, the council authorized additional outside accounting and legal expenses, as well as the painting and repair of equipment at the city’s water treatment plant.

In other business, the council passed a resolution in support of a clean air campaign, and authorized the closing of city streets for eight different upcoming events.

Two significant appointments were discussed at the meeting. The first was a mayoral nomination on which the council will be asked to take action at its next meeting – appointing Sue Gott, planner for the University of Michigan, to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The other was an appointment that has already been made by Gov. Rick Snyder – Joe Burke as judge to the 15th District Court. Burke was on hand to be introduced to the council. [Full Story]

DDA Updated: Parking, Panhandling, Parcels

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Oct. 5, 2011): At its regular monthly meeting, the DDA board had no voting items on its agenda, but received the usual set of reports from its committees and the public.

Bob Guenzel chair of DDA board

Bob Guenzel chaired his first meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board on Wednesday. (Photos by the writer.)

Those included the monthly parking report, which showed use of the city’s public parking trending upward compared to last year, as well as an annual report on the structure-by-structure breakdown of the parking system.

The reports presented to the DDA board at their meeting – together with a recent report delivered to the city’s environmental commission about parking trends dating back to the mid-2000s – provide reason for some cautious optimism. The number of people getting access to downtown Ann Arbor by driving there and parking suggests an overall slight upward trend, despite a reduced number of number of hourly patrons earlier this year.

Also related to parking, the board received a presentation on a communications plan that the DDA is developing, targeted at downtown evening employees. That communications plan is meant to make sure those employees are aware of low cost alternatives to using on-street parking spaces. The communications strategy would be part of a possible plan to extend enforcement hours for on-street parking meetings past 6 p.m. The DDA will present its tentative proposal for revisions to parking policies to the city council at a joint working session of the board and the council to be held on Nov. 14.

In response to some of the individual success stories that were presented in connection with parking alternatives, DDA board member Russ Collins said, “I wonder how this positive message will play in the media.”

Collins’ remark could have applied to much of the rest of the meeting as well. The board took the report on the basic current financial health of the parking system as an occasion to talk about the overall economic strength of the downtown. Despite the recent closing of some smaller stores, board members gave reports of strong performances by other businesses.

That positive report contrasted with public commentary about ongoing problems with aggressive panhandling and drug dealing and other fringe behavior exhibited downtown. Mayor John Hieftje, who sits on the DDA board, described how some response is being developed by the Ann Arbor police department.

The construction updates on the Fifth and Division streetscape improvement project and the underground parking garage on Fifth Avenue converged on the Ann Arbor District Library. The projects will result in modifying the downtown library building’s front porch, to facilitate access from the new east-west mid-block street – Library Lane – into the library.

As the underground parking garage nears expected completion in the spring of 2012, brief discussion unfolded among DDA board members on the near-term use of the top of that garage. Also related to potential development in the “midtown area” was a report from the partnerships committee. A steering committee comprising DDA board members and community members will be leading the effort to explore alternative uses of specific city-owned parcels downtown, including the top of the underground parking structure (aka the Library Lot).

It was the first board meeting chaired by Bob Guenzel, who was elected to that position at the DDA’s last meeting, which he was unable to attend. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Task Force Consults Panhandlers

Editor’s note: At its Sept. 20, 2010 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council reappointed a downtown street outreach task force – aka the “panhandling task force” – which had existed in the early 2000s. The current group’s charge is to work for no longer than six months to identify cost-effective ways to achieve better enforcement of the city’s ordinance against panhandling, and to provide help to panhandlers who are addicted to drugs.

The sum of one panhandler's afternoon collection on Dec. 31, 2010 on the sidewalk next to Border's Bookstore on East Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor. (Photo by Dave Askins.)

Now that the task force is roughly halfway through that six-month period, The Chronicle attended its December meeting to check in on the group’s work.

You buy local, think global, pay it forward, recycle. You’re a good person.

So how do you respond to a panhandler? Is opening your wallet helping someone in need? Or is it enabling an addiction? Can you look the other way and still consider yourself compassionate?

At the Dec. 15 meeting of the city’s panhandling task force, three paid consultants gave their perspective on the issue – as panhandlers. Geoffrey Scott said he enjoys talking to the people almost as much as he appreciates the money they give him.

But one member of the city’s panhandling task force says people don’t realize the damage they do in the name of kindness. [Full Story]

Washtenaw Board Debates Budget Issues

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Nov. 17, 2010): Budget-related issues drove much of the discussion during Wednesday’s board meeting, as county commissioners wrangled over a resolution proposed by Leah Gunn to eliminate per diem, travel and mileage payments to commissioners.

Members of the Washtenaw County street soccer team

Members of the Washtenaw County street soccer team, which competed in Washington D.C. this summer at the Street Soccer USA Cup. David Altherr, far left, also was picked to play for the U.S. team at the 8th annual Homeless World Cup in Rio, Brazil in September. They were on hand to promote a Dec. 10-11 fundraiser. (Photos by the writer.)

At some points during the debate there was a fair amount of confusion. A vote to eliminate per diem payments initially passed, but commissioner Ronnie Peterson then indicated that he’d intended to vote the opposite way. Because he’d voted on the prevailing side, parliamentary rules allowed him to bring the issue back for another vote – he switched his vote to no, and the resolution failed to pass. Ultimately, none of the proposed cuts won enough support to enact.

A resolution to set the cost of a police services unit (PSU) received little discussion – aside from some public commentary from Ann Arbor Township supervisor Mike Moran, and a response by commissioner Jeff Irwin. A PSU is the term used for a sheriff’s deputy who is hired on a contract basis to serve local townships and other municipalities. The board gave initial approval to set the cost at $176,108 and is expected to take a final vote on the issue at their Dec. 1 meeting. They’ll wait until next year to tackle the more contentious question of how much the county will charge contracting municipalities per PSU – an amount that will likely be lower, offset by a county general fund contribution.

In other budget-related matters, a public hearing on revisions to the 2011 budget drew only three speakers – including two representatives from local nonprofits who urged commissioners to consider the impact of any cuts they might contemplate for human services. The board also authorized soliciting bids for an internal audit, and discussed holding a special meeting in December to start setting priorities for upcoming budget discussions.

As he had during the Nov. 8 administrative briefing, board chair Rolland Sizemore Jr. expressed frustration with the management of the Washtenaw County Road Commission, and said he wants the board to address that issue. There’s a vacancy on the road commission board, a group that’s appointed by the county board and that has oversight for the road commission operations. Other county commissioners said they’d like to hold public interviews for the job – seven people have applied.

Also on Wednesday, members of the county’s Street Soccer team, the SSPORT, came to the meeting to ask commissioners to participate in the 24-hour Soccerthon, a fundraiser to be held at WideWorld Sports Center starting on Friday, Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. The team is part of the county’s homeless project outreach team (PORT), which provides mental health and other support services to the local homeless population. The players had participated in the third annual Street Soccer USA Cup this summer in Washington D.C., and one of the players, David Altherr, had been picked to play for the U.S. team at the 8th annual Homeless World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in September.

During Wednesday’s meeting the board also passed a resolution declaring Nov. 14-20, 2010 as National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Former county administrator Bob Guenzel, chair of the nonprofit Washtenaw Housing Alliance, was on hand and told the board to expect a re-energized effort related to the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness. He announced that the WHA has hired a new executive director to lead that effort – Julie Steiner, who has served as executive director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Washtenaw County at Alpha House. [Full Story]

Laws of Physics II: Homeless Encampment

Exactly one year ago, on Sept. 1, 2009, the homeless community that had been camping behind Arborland mall was evicted from that location by Ann Arbor police officers. So the residents of Camp Take Notice, a self-governed community of homeless people, spent that first night of September just north of the park-and-ride lot at Ann Arbor-Saline Road and I-94.


Signs on the trail to Camp Take Notice. (Photos by the writer)

Last year, The Chronicle reported the commentary on those events from Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County: “It’s simple physics,” she said. “People have to be some place, and if people don’t have a place to be, they will find a place to be.”

The state police paid a visit, taking names but making no arrests. Later one of the campers, Caleb Poirier, would be arrested on charges of trespassing on the Michigan Dept. of Transportation property. Poirier was represented by David Blanchard of the law firm Nacht & Associates, P.C. The ACLU filed an amicus brief in support of Poirier, and the charges against the camper were eventually dropped. The camp’s current location is off Wagner Road near I-94.

In the course of the past year, members of the community – some homeless campers, some not – who organized in support of the tent encampment under the name Michigan Itinerant Shelter System Interdependent Out of Necessity (MISSION) have achieved more than simply a successful legal defense of one of their members. They were a key force in prompting the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County to consider allocating emergency shelter funds for the winter of 2009-10.

And their recent achievement of official nonprofit status as a 501(c)(3) organization means that the goal of finding land sponsors to host the camp legally appears a bit more realistic. A student with the University of Michigan Law School who’s working with MISSION has sketched out a model for how liabilities could be handled by defining appropriate relationships among the land sponsor, MISSION and the homeless camp. The group heard a presentation on legal issues last Friday morning at the Washtenaw County Annex on Fourth Avenue.

But it’s all still a matter of physical laws. UM physics doctoral student Brian Nord, who’s president of MISSION’s board, compares Camp Take Notice to a gas and MISSION to a relief valve: “As long as the environment within camp is positive and community-driven, the methods of CTN can be fluid and operate as a gas. However, the established societal regulations and more so the prejudices act as a maximal container of this fluid. MISSION, the valve, has to evolve itself to consistently advocate for the rights of the individual, while appearing as part of the establishment to the camp.”

As The Chronicle noted a year ago, “This is a story that does not yet have an end, nor will it likely ever have one.” But it is now time for an update. [Full Story]

Club Knits Community Scholars Together

Couzens Hall on Ann Street near the University of Michigan Hospital has previously made its way into the pages of The Ann Arbor Chronicle – as part of UM regents meeting reports. At their Dec. 17, 2009 meeting, regents authorized $49 million in construction contracts at Couzens – which chief financial officer Tim Slottow called the last of the university’s “deep” renovations of its heritage residence halls.

Knitting in Couzens Hall

As Keegan Cisowski knits, he pulls yarn from a metal trash can he's adapted to hold his skeins. (Photos by the writer.)

Last Thursday, The Chronicle spent part of the evening in the living room of Couzens Hall – with a couple dozen members of a knitting club: Scarves with a Purpose (SWAP). The purpose is to provide homeless people with scarves.

It’s an idea that club president, UM freshman Melanie Hebeisen, brought with her from her hometown in Northbrook, Illinois, near Chicago. Hebeisen and her mom started the concept in Northbrook, and that effort has spawned four other chapters, counting the UM club.

Why scarves? It’s a choice driven in part by the fact that new recruits to SWAP typically don’t know how to knit. They’re mostly like Kinnard Hokenhull, who saw one of the SWAP knitters in his dorm making a scarf, and figured he’d like to learn how.  [Full Story]

Board Sets Process to Replace Guenzel

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (Jan. 6, 2010): Wednesday’s meeting of the board was spent mostly on procedural and governance issues, but the undercurrent of ongoing budget concerns was never far from the discussion.

Larry Kestenbaum, Washtenaw County clerk, listens to a public commentary speaker at Wednesday's meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. Kestenbaum presided over the meeting until the board elected its officers. Rolland Sizemore Jr. was re-elected unanimously to his second term as chairman of the board.

Larry Kestenbaum, Washtenaw County clerk, listens to a public commentary speaker at Wednesday's meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. Kestenbaum presided over the meeting until the board elected its chair for the new year. Rolland Sizemore Jr. was re-elected unanimously to his second term as chair of the board.

The board loosened its rules regarding public commentary, discussed – but ultimately rejected – an attempt to change the flex account method for managing its own portion of the budget, and got an update on the search for a replacement for retiring county administrator Bob Guenzel.

A job posting will be made for that position on Monday, Jan. 11, with the possibility of making a new hire as early as Feb. 3.

The board also heard from an advocate for the homeless during public commentary, who urged the board to take more of a leadership role in addressing that issue. [Full Story]

County Budget Moves Toward Final Vote

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (Nov. 18, 2009): The county’s administration and elected officials have been grappling with the 2010-2011 budget for nearly a year, and passed a milestone at Wednesday’s meeting with approval of the budget during the board’s Ways & Means Committee meeting. They’re expected to take a final vote at the Dec. 2 regular board meeting. Staff members who attended the meeting seemed visibly relieved.

The board also got an update on the 2009 budget, made appointments to more than a dozen commissions and committees, and approved emergency funding to help provide shelter for the homeless during the winter months. Details on these and other agenda items after the break. [Full Story]

Council OKs Recycling, Transit, Shelter

people standing in a semi-circle

Left to right: Brian Nord and Caleb Poirier (back to camera), who are both advocates for Camp Take Notice, a self-governed encampment of homeless people. Also Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Mayor John Hieftje. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Nov. 5, 2009): Meeting on Thursday due to the elections, instead of in its usual Monday slot, Ann Arbor’s city council moved ahead on two major initiatives that will eventually have a significant impact on Ann Arbor residents.

The council approved a memorandum of understanding with the University of Michigan to move forward on joint development of the Fuller Road Station, which offers the university an alternative to construction of a parking deck on Wall Street. The first phase of the project is anticipated to be completed in mid-June 2012.

Also given a green light was a conversion to single-stream recycling – a single cart will be distributed to residents to replace the twin totes currently used for curbside pickup. The new carts will be rolled out in June 2010.

A more immediate impact will be made by a council decision to allocate a combined $159,500 to the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County and the Interfaith Hospitality Network – the funds will increase the sheltering capacity by 50 spots for individuals through the winter, starting Dec. 1, and provide housing vouchers for eight families for a year. [Full Story]

Still No Dam Decision

woman and man at table with hands held aloft

Leigh Greden, who chaired the meeting as fourth in the line of mayoral succession, did not at any point abuse the temporary power by saying, "Everybody show me your hands!" Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) are in fact sussing out which version of the Argo Dam resolution the city clerk had circulated. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Oct. 19, 2009): A city council whose ranks were reduced by four members – due to family medical issues and personal illness – tabled a resolution on Argo Dam that would have expressed the body’s intent to keep Argo Dam in place and to perform necessary repairs mandated by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The tabling came only after long deliberations, which included a recess, and focused mainly on the question of tabling versus postponing until a date certain.

Several people spoke during reserved public commentary time on the issue of Argo Dam. But the dam question was somewhat overshadowed for some in the audience by a presentation on homelessness at the beginning of the meeting from Mary Jo Callan, who’s director of the combined county-city office of community development. Said one speaker during public commentary: “After hearing the stats on homelessness, I’m ashamed to be standing here talking to you about Argo Dam.”

The presentation on sheltering the homeless – especially during the winter – included a specific call to action from Ellen Schulmeister, director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County. She asked community members to start conversations at their churches, synagogues, mosques or other community groups about how they might be able to provide volunteer support and space to expand the current rotating shelter program. Schulmeister asked that the conversations begin now, “So that when we ask, you’re ready to go.”

In other major business, the city council authorized the expenditure of $100,000 for removal of five failing beams on the East Stadium bridge over State Street – beams which run under a portion of the bridge currently closed to traffic. The work is scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 15 through Tuesday, Nov. 17 and will require the closing of State Street during the work.

The council also approved the next step in the creation of a Business Improvement Zone (BIZ) along Main Street between William and Huron streets. [Full Story]

Counting on Socks and Underwear

Collection bin at Eberwhite Sock Hop on Friday.

Collection bin at Eberwhite Elementary's Sock Hop on Friday.

When Jane Ferris led her class of first-graders through their math lesson on Monday, they counted underwear and socks – not their own, but a batch donated at a sock hop held Friday at their school, Eberwhite Elementary.

Once tallied, the items will be added to donations from around the county, part of the Education Project for Homeless Youth‘s Sock Drop Drive to provide basic clothing for kids whose families can’t afford it on their own.

Peri Stone-Palmquist, coordinator for the Education Project, said this is the first time they’ve done this type of clothing drive, and that the economy is a factor: A lot more people are asking for basic clothing, while local thrift shops don’t have as much, because of the higher demand. And, she added, “who wants to get underwear at a thrift shop?” [Full Story]

Column: We Must See the Homeless – And Help

When I present to school groups, I always pose the same question: What images come to mind when you hear the word homeless? Inevitably, the answers sound the same, whether I’m speaking to University of Michigan athletes or elementary age students huddled in a circle on the floor. They think of single adults, often male, outside, asking for food or money. They think of someone who is dirty, wearing layers and layers of clothes, maybe someone pushing a grocery cart.

The truth is, the homeless are diverse – and a great many are invisible and forgotten.

Each day, I work with homeless families, children and youth as an education advocate with the Education Project for Homeless Youth. You likely won’t see … [Full Story]

Dine Away from Home for Homeless


Here at The Chronicle, we enjoy any opportunity for a road trip, and we’ve spotted one in the form of a fundraiser that combines dining and donations.

The fundraising effort for SOS Community Services is called Dine Out to Help the Homeless. It’s a two-day affair, ending on this Saturday, Nov. 22. According to Kate Zellers, development associate for SOS, the nonprofit has teamed up with seven area purveyors of food and beverage to solicit contributions from diners this weekend. Customers can make their contribution to SOS in the form of an extra “menu item” for the donation – a special dish that will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside even if you only enjoy a small portion. [Full Story]

Bringing Home the Fight Against Homelessness

Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association.

Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association, was honored at Thursday night's awards dinner. Behind her, from left, are Diane Davidson, Bob Guenzel, Judy Rumelhart and Chuck Kieffer.

It takes a community to end homelessness – that message was repeated like a mantra at Thursday night’s dinner for the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County at the Michigan League ballroom, which brought together many of the people responsible for working toward that goal over the past 25 years.

Foremost among them was Ellen Schulmeister, the association’s executive director, who was honored at the event – much to her surprise. [Full Story]