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 Washtenaw Housing Alliance. Several WHA board members also attended the May 7 meeting, including former county administrator Bob Guenzel. [.pdf of presentation]

In 2013, 4,542 people were homeless in Washtenaw County – a 25% increase since 2011. On any given night, 510 people experience homelessness in Washtenaw County. Several organizations provide a total of 299 emergency shelter beds, but demand far exceeds available resources.

Callan and Schulmeister reviewed the many barriers to helping people find housing. They also provided several suggestions for addressing these issues:

  • Restore funding for affordable housing projects, such as rapid rehousing, affordable housing development, and permanent supportive housing.
  • Create and fund a mission-style shelter and/or a permanent warming center.
  • Use county assets to advance affordable housing projects.
  • Continue to stabilize existing providers, including PORT and local nonprofits.
  • Provide funding for short-term motel/hotel stays to engage people in permanent housing programs.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]