Efforts to Reduce Homelessness Include Prevention, Coordination
(Elizabeth Schanz, July 6, 2022)
Oakland County, MI- Over the past few years, efforts have been made in Oakland County to help with homelessness. Some projects include the Oakland County Poverty and Homelessness Task Force, the 2021 Oakland County Blueprint to End Homelessness, and the recent passing of housing resolutions in April 2022 by the Oakland County Commissioners to help promote housing security. The multifaceted issue of homelessness and housing insecurity is addressed through multiple approaches to help the broader community.
One primary factor that affects those in need of housing are the hurdles individuals face when trying to obtain the right resources. Some of these barriers can include the inability to get in contact with the correct organization or officials, extensive paperwork, or even the definition of homelessness itself.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines homelessness as a person whose nighttime residence is a public or private place not designed or ordinarily used for sleeping (car, park, etc.), is living in a private or public shelter, or has resided in a shelter not meant for human habitation. This definition limits who may qualify for funding, but other people can be out of this support.
Kimber Bishop-Yanke, founder of the non-profit Kids Empowered On The Move and member of the Homeless Task Force stated that this definition causes individuals to potentially hit rock bottom before receiving assistance. This can create a larger deficit that someone will have a harder time coming back from where individuals without proper assistance may have bad credit, late payments, or even eviction. “Basically you have created 100 other problems for this family that maybe you could have helped them with their rent for a couple months and gotten through this. Now you have a homeless family now.”
Kids Empowered On The Move works to bridge the gap for those struggling so that individuals can reach sustainability. Through her organization she works to raise money to provide individuals with more permanent housing. She has purchased mobile homes and paid for housing, provided food, and paid for resources that individuals may not otherwise be able to get.
Bishop-Yanke’s hopes to create a simpler process to help those in need. One of her goals is to create a database where individuals can enter their information and needs where this information can be sent to not only her non-profit but other organizations as well. She hopes that this system will allow people to be connected with the right resources and allow organizations to come to the individual. Bishop-Yanke thinks that this system will help people have access to what they need and ease the process.
“Right now [the system] is unbelievably frustrating, deflating,” said Bishop-Yanke, “People don’t trust the system anymore because they get rejected so much, they can’t find who can help them.”
Other organizations like My COVID Relief have used information databases to help individuals in need and Bishop-Yanke wants to create a similar process across multiple non-profits. She is currently working to find individuals to help fund the project and make this vision a reality. She feels that it would be a “game changer” in the non-profit approach to helping those in need.
Additionally, efforts made at the legislative level within Oakland County may also help ease the housing issue. The Blueprint to End Homeless introduced in 2021 has since worked as a guideline to address not only physical housing resolutions, but issues that lead to homelessness as well.
The housing resolutions passed in the housing security initiative in April were informed by the propositions within the housing blueprint. The resolutions include a Housing Trust Fund that works to help many people access affordable housing, a Critical Home Repair Program to help individuals, especially seniors or individuals on social security, to help fix problems within the home, Shelter Capacity Fund which allocates more shelter beds within Oakland County.
Oakland County Commissioner Charlie Cavell worked on these projects and helped initiate discussion surrounding these policies. However, the housing blueprint is not set in stone and the next steps are up to the decisions of policy makers and their constituents.
“The blueprint helped illuminate and help codify and prioritize what we want to get done in terms of housing,” said Cavell, “This can be different than what is politically salable. The housing blueprint will say whatever thing we need to do next, but [it comes down to] the people in the Oakland County Government and what they are willing to vote yes on.”
Cavell hopes to continue to create change for the housing problem by creating and addressing potential policies. To help bridge the gap in housing, Cavell’s goal is to make housing more affordable and accessible within Oakland County. He’s been having discussions with the Oakland County Commission to help better understand zoning laws, which establishes land use policies, and work to establish a Fair Market Rent Rate. These developments help to create potential advancements in how communities address housing issues.
Cavell said, “The County cannot tell local communities what to do with their zoning, so it would just be to understand what zoning is so we can offer incentives and support for communities who do zoning in a manner that is fitting for positive economic development.”
Additionally, the proposed Fair Market Rent Rate (FMR) would help people live in a community with subsidized housing. This makes it so that qualifying individuals will pay for a portion of their rent and receive subsidies from the federal government to help them with the cost. Cavell said this can help people with their “upward mobility” to help individuals live in areas with greater opportunities such as better school districts and make them more accessible.
These plans currently are in the stages of education because of the complexity of housing policy and the multiple steps that go into new housing plans. Cavell emphasized that in order for these policies to take shape it is important for people to want individuals to maintain empathy and to understand that individuals all have the same “inherent worth and dignity.”
While there continues to be developments both within legislative policies and through non-profit organizations there are many ways for individuals to make an impact on their community. People can help those in need by getting involved with volunteering and promoting education on housing policies.
To learn more about Kids Empowered On the Move follow this link https://kidsempoweredonthemove.org and to see more information on efforts by the Oakland County Commission, search https://www.oakgov.com/boc/Pages/default.aspx