Ann Arbor Gives Stopgap to Warming Center

At its Oct. 17, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to authorize $25,000 to support the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County‘s warming center. The money will come from the city’s general fund reserve balance. It will make up the gap between the roughly $56,000 in private donations that SAWC has been able to raise for the warming center and its $81,000 annual operating budget.

Of that operating budget, $600 is spent on utilities for laundry, and the rest compensates shift workers paid $12.57 per hour, and a half-time case worker, who is paid $15.96 per hour.

The warming center, located in the Delonis Center on Huron Street on the western edge of downtown Ann Arbor, can accomodate up to 50 individuals. It is open December through April, or any time the temperature (or wind chill) falls below 35 F degrees.

Closure of the warming center was part of the Shelter Association’s strategy to remain financially solvent in the face of cuts in funding from Washtenaw County, the state and federal government.

A number of specific negative impacts have been cited by Shelter Association staff that would result from a closure of the warming center: more police calls; increasing frustration among business owners; increased vandalism; backlash against homeless people; increased crime by desperate people; untreated mental health problems; increased use of emergency rooms for non-emergency care; and overcrowding of jails and court system.

The $25,000 allocated this year could be analyzed as follow-through on recent previous investments made by the Ann Arbor city council in the specific mission of the warming center.

For example, at its Nov. 5, 2009 meeting, the council passed a resolution that awarded a $30,500 contract with the Shelter Association and a $129,000 contract with Interfaith Hospitality Network, which operates a family shelter. The money was to provide case management and staff support for 25 additional beds at the Delonis Center and 25 additional beds in the rotating shelter program, as well as housing vouchers for eight families.

The council had received a presentation on the homelessness crisis at its Oct. 19, 2009 meeting from Mary Jo Callan, head of the county/city office of community development. She had alerted them to the likelihood that a funding request would be coming to them at a subsequent meeting. [Other Chronicle coverage: "Increased homeless sheltering effort needs volunteers"]

The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, at its Nov. 4 2009 meeting, had authorized $20,000 to cover the “hard costs” – i.e., the actual beds – in connection with the initiative, which was seen as a short-term solution in the face of approaching winter weather.

Although it was not earmarked specifically for the warming center, on Oct. 6, 2010 the DDA authorized a $218,050 grant from its housing fund to the Shelter Association for improvements at the Delonis Center. The money paid  for new washers and dryers, lockers and chairs, an emergency generator, energy conservation measures, medical equipment and software.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]