Homelessness is a national problem. Lansing is no exception

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By Alexis Howell
Listen Up, Lansing Staff Reporter

 

Stacy Johnson said she use to be homeless but thanks God she got out of it.

“I became homeless because I was in an abusive relationship with the father of my son and he tried to kill me. Finally I told myself I needed to go, so that is what I did. I had two kids in the shelter with me which I am thankful for because now they take your kids away from you,” said the Lansing woman.

Johnson said that every day she went out and looked for a job because she was determined to make a better life for herself and her kids. She was able to find two jobs while living in the shelter and always had to bang on the door at 2 a.m. when she got off her second job because the shelter was closed, but they always let her in.

“I saved up all my money and applied for Section 8,” said Johnson. “I used all the resources I could get because my back was against the wall. My children were my motivation to get out.”

Johnson said, “Nowadays, people become too comfortable with being homeless and I was just not one of those people. It felt good to finally be back on my feet and supporting my children on my own. I thank God for that rough patch in my life because it made me the person that I am today.”

The predicament Johnson once found herself in isn’t unusual in Greater Lansing or the state of Michigan.

According to a report made by Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness, in 2014, 97,642 were counted as being homeless statewide. Screenshot 2015-12-03 09.47.37

According to the Greater Lansing Homeless Resolution Network, in 2014 429 people were chronically homeless in the Lansing area, 709 people were in 2013, 2011 it was 607 people, 691 people were chronically homeless in 2010, in 2009 there was 597 people, and in 2008 there was 657 people found chronically homeless.

“Families are affected pretty heavily,” said Laura Gultekin an assistant professor at the University of Michigan and a homelessness expert. “Data shows that families are single parent females with one to two children under the age of six. They have a fragile family structure, no external support, and no resources in their community.”

Eric Hufnagel, executive director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, a statewide non-profit company that works on behalf of organizations that provide direct services to homeless people, said that his organization helps with events such as homelessness awareness week and project homelessness connect.

“Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week is observed nationally, but in Michigan, homelessness is our focus,” said Hufnagel.

This year, Homelessness awareness week was Nov. 14-22. During this week, according to Hufnagel, his organization tried to get communities to do things to raise awareness. They gave out toolkits to help the communities that may not know how to bring awareness to their city.

National Homeless provides an organizing manual that helps the community with ideas for events. They suggest hosting educational forums on hunger and homelessness where communities can invite speakers out to conduct these forums. These speakers can range from service provides, community speakers, or people who have experienced homelessness.

They also suggest having people live in a car for 24 hours in a public area to raise awareness about how some homeless people live, and a food stamp challenge where they have participants eat on a food stamp diet for a week or a day.

“Project Homeless Connect is a one day community event that helps get resources to those that are homeless, those at risk of becoming homeless, and those who may be living paycheck to paycheck,” said Hufnagel.

At this event, communities help identify resources that those that are homeless may not be aware of. This event is supposed to link people to resources that can help the homeless person not be homeless.

Angel Fletcher, information and referral specialist of 2-1-1, said that their telephone line is open 24/7. The purpose of the information and referral line is to help those in need of resources get connected to them.

“When people call, we usually screen them first,” said Fletcher. “We ask whether they are homeless or not, what their age is, whether they have children and family and if they are a veteran. Based of their screening, we determine what the correct resources for them will be.”

Fletcher said that sometimes they follow up with the person in about one or two weeks based off their circumstances. They want to see if they have been able to find shelters in the area, or even low income or subsidized housing.

Hosanna House is a place of transitional housing for youth getting out of foster care. They currently have a house in Lansing with two girls and three babies according to Karen Bacon, president and co-founder of Hosanna House.

She said that their goal is to renovate homes for youth. They take in children 18-24, however only those with the age group of 18-21 come with a stipend. This stipend pays for their rent, and utilities.

“Children come here because they can’t afford to live on their own. With them being here, their focus is changed from affording housing, to education,” said Bacon.

There are some stipulations for the children: they can stay up to four years and must be working. Hosanna House charges them $350 per month and since they own the homes that they are renting out to these children, they do not have to kick them out when they cannot afford rent. They are still able to help them.

Bacon said they recently received a grant for $75,000 called the Capital Region Community Foundation Grant, which has gone toward buying three houses that they will renovate for the children coming to them in need.

They give the children the option of buying the house they are living in at $25,000, which Hosanna House will use to buy and renovate more houses for more children.

“We hope to renovate five homes every year,” said Bacon.

Loaves and Fishes Ministries is a homeless shelter that provides transitional housing programs for people on a first come first serve bases, according to Jenny Leaf, the director of the ministries.

“Our shelter has space for six men, and four women, and they can stay for up to two weeks. If they need to stay longer, we do give them an extension,” said Leaf. “If we are full, we try to refer people to another shelter, or the information and referral hotline to help them get housing or food assistance they might need.”

Pat Morgan, a homelessness expert, said for five years she worked in a church’s basement full of homeless people. She said homelessness is about losses, and housing is just the last thing to go.

She learned a lot from people and continues to help homeless people because that is her passion.

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