By Katie Harrington
Old Town Times staff writer
The new four-year limit on families receiving welfare in Michigan has raised questions about increased crime and homelessness in Old Town.
Sheila Maxwell, an Associate Professor at Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice, said that since the assumption is that the people who are being taken off welfare really need assistance, there would be a lot of people in trouble. “[The senate] didn’t want people to abuse welfare, but if these people indeed really did need assistance, they would be out on the street,” Maxwell said.
“Whenever you see people removed from welfare rolls, you can expect to see an increase in crime and disorder,” said Bonnie Bucqueroux, former associate director of the National Center for Community Policing at Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice. “For a community like Old Town, my concern would be an increase in shoplifting, panhandling, prostitution and street corner drug sales.”
Lansing Police Lt. Noel Garcia said he would not speculate about possible outcomes and that the police department currently doesn’t have any strategies to deal with the issues if they do come up.
“I would think police would want to get ahead of the issue rather than play catch up,” said Bucqueroux.
Judy Putnam, the communications director for the Michigan League for Human Services, said there is no concern for increased homelessness and crime in the Lansing area. “I don’t think we should assume that because people are low income they are criminals,” Putnam said. “And we have to remember that Ingham County is not going to be affected as much as other counties because there are only 70 cases of people losing their assistance here.”
In fact, Ingham County is ranked number 12 on the list of most families being affected by the measure. Wayne County is number one with 6,560 families affected.
“Particularly in Detroit and Flint, we will see a rise in homelessness because there’s a huge concentration in people losing their cash assistance,” said Putnam.
Colleen Rosso, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Human Services, agrees that there is not much to be concerned about.
“We have been reaching out to these families since the beginning of August,” Rosso said. “We sent them three letters, instituted a job navigator program to help folks find employment, worked with our state emergency relief fund to assure these families have three months rental assistance should they need it and connected them with a social worker who helped them chart their paths,” Rosso said. “As far as I know, that’s unprecedented in the U.S.”
Rosso also said that the families are still eligible for food assistance, child care, Medicaid and a plethora of other programs. However, it is up to the individuals to take advantage of the programs.
“We have to make sure the families don’t reach any point of desperation,” said Rosso. “But if they reach out to the Department of Human Services, it will help them with the resources that they need.”