East Lansing offering unique assistance to homeless families

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Haven House on Abbot Rd. Photo by Sarah Horotn.

While Greater Lansing provides a variety of resources for individuals dealing with homelessness, East Lansing’s Haven House targets families in need.

In 2015, members of families comprised over half of the homeless population in Michigan, according to data from the Homeless Management Information System. In Ingham County, the numbers are similar. Roughly 46 percent of people dealing with homelessness are families and children, according to the Greater Lansing Area 2015 Annual Homeless Report.

“Homelessness is an issue throughout the greater Lansing region,” said Amy Schlusler-Schmitt, East Lansing’s community development and engagement manager. “In East Lansing, we have the only homeless shelter that services parents with children.”

The shelter, known as Haven House, is a nonprofit sanctuary that has offered help to families in the area for going on 35 years. According to its website, it offers “emergency housing and support services” and assists homeless families in the transition to permanent housing.

Data obtained from Haven House. Graphic created by Sarah Horton via Adobe Spark.

“The other shelters typically serve either adult males or women and children, but if your family falls in between those definitions there might not be another place for you to go,” said Gabriel Biber, executive director of Haven House. “Haven House focuses on those families that otherwise would not be able to find shelter.”

Biber began working at Haven House as volunteer coordinator about five years ago, filling various roles before his most recent transition to executive director on April 2. Biber says Haven House shelters over 100 families each year.

“We’re almost always full,” said Biber. “If a family moves from our shelter into a house of their own, we typically fill that space within a few hours. If not, then the very next morning.”

A major factor when it comes to homelessness in the Lansing area is unemployment, said Stacy Hickox, associate professor at Michigan State University’s School of Human Resources and Labor Relations.

“People find themselves out of a job for whatever reason, whether it be for health reasons or layoffs, and so that leads to homelessness, because obviously if you have a lack of income then it’s difficult to keep your home,” said Hickox.

And although it might seem like East Lansing is brimming with “now hiring” signs, Hickox said more jobs doesn’t always fix the problem.

“People that find themselves homeless aren’t necessarily equipped with all of the qualifications that the jobs are calling for these days,” said Hickox.

Hickox said she donated to Haven House in the past before joining the board of directors in 2016. She cited assistance programs that work with families before and after homelessness as a successful way to set goals and transfer responsibility. Due to high demand, Hickox said Haven House is looking to expand its capacity.

“Many families come from Lansing, but we also have families from East Lansing, Holt, Okemos, Haslett, so really from all over the area,” said Biber.

While Haven House might be East Lansing’s foremost homeless shelter, Schlusler-Schmitt said the city’s involvement in dealing with homelessness extends beyond a single nonprofit partnership.

Grand River Avenue bus stop. Photo by Sarah Horton.

According to Schlusler-Schmitt, East Lansing donates money to a variety of homeless resources in Lansing, including Volunteers of America and Child and Family Charities.

“I think that all the nonprofit organizations work hard and work together to share with individuals where their resources are, so I think it’s really up to the individual to determine where they’re going to be most comfortable,” said Schlusler-Schmitt.

When it comes to homeless individuals in East Lansing, Schlusler-Schmitt said there are rarely complaints.

“Sometimes people will call us concerned,” said Schlusler-Schmitt. “It’s not a common occurrence. I would say maybe we get one or two phone calls a year, actually oftentimes around the springtime. You know, people might be sleeping in the corridors of a parking garage or a bench or something in the area.”

For individuals interested in assisting homeless families in East Lansing, Biber says involvement can include everything from preparing meals to raising awareness through fundraisers.

“I think getting involved with Haven House as a volunteer is a great way to fight this problem,” said Biber. “Helping homeless families can be done in a lot of ways.”

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