When you first meet Shelley, you can’t help but notice her dazzling smile and her positive outlook. You’d never know she was, in her words, “one step from being homeless.”
And she’s not alone.
Like so many people in Washtenaw County, the devastating decline in the economy has forced so many individuals and families into shelters or places like Camp Take Notice – a tent village on state property near Ann Arbor.
For Jeff, a former resident of Camp Take Notice, resources like that have helped him have a place to call home – when he didn’t have one.
“People here normally get their job, they get on their feet, get an apartment and that sort of thing,” he said. “So it’s certainly nothing permanent.”
He said that being in CTN provides a consistent place to live, so it’s easier to stay organized and start the job hunt. Luckily, after being granted Social Security disability payments, he was able to move out of CTN and find an inexpensive living situation.
Both Shelly and Jeff asked that their last names not be used.
In 2004, several partners in Washtenaw County, both public and private along with the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, pledged to end homelessness in 10 years. WHA published a report entitled “A Home for Everyone: A Blueprint to End Homelessness” and was spread through the community with four goals in mind; prevention, housing with services (permanent supportive housing), rectify the system of care and include the community.
In an attempt to have a central location for adults, children, mental illness residents, families, HIV/AIDs residents, WHA created a single point of entry known as Housing Access for Washtenaw County to better serve residents in need.
From 2009-11, WHA coordinated a response plan with the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program. This new pilot was able to prevent homelessness for 583 households granting $2,483 in funds to these households. For 191 families, $1,898 was allocated to get these households back into permanent housing.
Because of resources that WHA has coordinated, people like Robert Salo, formerly of Farmington Hills, was able to find a safe sanctuary in the Delonis Center.
“They (Delonis Center) helped me find my housing through the housing coordinator. They also showed me the survival kit of the resources that were available in Washtenaw County,” said Salo, who acknowledged he came to Ann Arbor because of Washtenaw County’s commitment to helping the disadvantaged. “They had computers so we could find work, because they wanted you to work.”
Despite all these efforts, Washtenaw County’s homeless community is increasing by shocking and disturbing numbers. Nevertheless, Community leaders like Susan Beckett considers Groundcover, a street newspaper dedicated to helping low-income and homeless people, “a small way for me to give back.”
“No one grows up wanting to be homeless,” she said. “And I would like to change that.”
Street Voice staff writers Jared Angle and Adrian Hedden contributed to this report.