TRAVERSE CITY – Breakfast at Central United Methodist Church is a growing affair.
Think about the school kitchen. There’s Special K cereal, fruit, and a handful of volunteers. At 9 a.m., 20-30 people line up to fill their breakfast tray. They talk and read the newspaper the night before. From time to time Allan, a volunteer, announces that a shower has become available. In the back of the room, a sales representative sits down with a man to explain his Medicare plan options.
In northwest Michigan, homelessness is higher than ever, according to data collected by the Northwest Michigan Coalition to End Homelessness.
In October, a local homeless referral list doubled. At the same time, homeless advocacy groups are struggling to get individuals to accommodation – a consequence of the housing shortage that has worsened since the beginning of the pandemic.
A number of factors, primarily related to the pandemic, pushed the number of identified homeless people to 284. In a single month in September, stakeholders identified 131 people, more than twice as many as in the previous month.
Lawyers said the cause was not the recent lapse in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium, but a number of factors. These include the collapse in social support, mounting mental crises, increasing domestic violence and the rising cost of living, particularly in Grand Traverse County. The result is more people who are unsafe, living in their cars, or doing their best to survive in campsites on the outskirts of the city.
At Central Methodist, outreach workers are seeing more and more people who have recently lost an apartment.
“These are people who have never been homeless before,” said Central United Methodist Church pastor Jane Lippert.
Lippert’s title – Outreach Coordinator – doesn’t fully explain the role. When the unprotected come to Central, she is one of the first people they meet. Adjusting a person to live without a home is not an easy task. Often people think for days before they come to their morning breakfast, said Lippert.
According to Lippert, newcomers are becoming more common. She said she needs to find ways to expand breakfast so she can serve more people.
âI see a lot of new faces. Some come in here and look like deer in the headlights, âsaid Lippert. “They fell through the ceiling or the safety net that they had.”
In addition to the formalities, Lippert’s job is to assess what her customers need. Some do not feel ready for an apartment. Others need advice, paperwork, and advice. Her church is also the only church in town that offers a homeless mailbox that is useful for setting up disability benefits, health services, or legal proceedings.
Sometimes it’s so easy to offer people a shower after breakfast.
The crowd at their church is a trend in Grand Traverse County that was recently followed by a number of housing advocacy groups. The Coalition Against Homelessness, led by Ashley Halladay-Schmandt, launched a âby-name recommendation listâ in October last year. The list tracks the arrivals and departures of homeless people referred to either the Goodwill Inn, Central United Methodist Church, and other local support networks.
The numbers tell a story. Every month a certain number of people without shelter are counted. If a bed is available for them at a facility like the Goodwill Inn, they will be marked as protected. If affordable housing is available, they will be marked as accommodated. If neither is available, it will remain in the “unprotected” column – where the number continues to grow. In September Halladay-Schmandt monitored 231 unprotected people in the system, 88 more than in the previous month. She said she was trying to find out if it was a seasonal increase, but the signs point to a steady upward trend.
“Of these 88, 53 were new people with no history of homelessness in our database,” said Halladay-Schmandt. “[These] new entries come. “
Outreach workers also track the reasons for the loss of homes. Only three referred to the Central United Methodist Church said they had been evicted, but 38 percent said they were kicked out of a house where they lived with a family or friend, and 17 percent cited domestic violence as the reason for leaving.
As the recommendations swell, the pressure on the house will intensify. Outreach workers are sandwiched between their efforts to get help and an immense lack of affordable housing. Only a handful of people are compared to an apartment each month while more are waiting for vacancies to appear.
âWe just can’t keep up,â said Halladay-Schmandt.
In the meantime, the arrival of new housing estates has not gone unnoticed. At Central United’s breakfast, Patty Motschall said she had been watching the arrival of new residential buildings, some of which have received county permits with short-term needs for affordable housing. As soon as these requirements are met, landlords can change the use of the apartment in order to achieve market-driven prices. Housing advocates in the district say that this is increasingly happening to seniors and the disabled: Landlords are pushing subsidized tenants in order to win tenants at market prices for double the price.
“I don’t think it’s fair that these people get new houses,” said Motschall. Motschall mentioned condos like Ridge45, which launched in 2016. âYou want the money. They don’t want residential vouchers or Section 8 or MSHDA. “
Kristen Steele, leasing agent at Ridge45, said properties accept coupons of all kinds, but Ridge45 still requires renters with coupons to have a gross income three times the market price. For example, renting a bedroom for $ 1,050 requires gross monthly income of $ 3,150.
Coupons, disability payments, and social security can give homeless applicants an income boost, but they will rarely get past minimum income requirements, Steele said.
“It’s pretty hard to be honest,” said Steele. “[The vouchers] Just give them that much a month. “
Shelley Perrault was homeless for years before she found affordable housing. Before that, she lived at the Goodwill Inn. Perrault worked as a housekeeper, she worked at gas stations, and worked in the Record-Eagle’s print shop – a night shift from 7:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. to put freshly printed advertising flyers in the folds of the newspapers.
“People have to have three jobs to afford this place,” Perrault said of Ridge45. She said other apartment complexes are more accessible, such as Tradewinds Terrace and East Bay Flats, which rent a bedroom for just under $ 700.
With the help of a voucher, she pays for an apartment on Hillview Terrace. But for years, Perrault said her vouchers had been declined.
âRedeem vouchers,â she said. “They told us that.”
It is not clear what the surge in numbers will mean for animal shelters. That’s because winter accommodations like Safe Harbor had record-low occupancy last year – only 39 were occupied in a shelter with 82 beds.
“There was a lot of fear of COVID,” said Mike McDonald, chairman of Safe Harbor. McDonald said the shelter will be preparing like last year, including the option to have people sleep on the floor if necessary.
“We have never turned anyone away,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Goodwill Inn continues to be in high demand. Dan Buron, the executive director of the Goodwill Inn, said his organization expects high demand for beds again this year. The shelter currently has a waiting list of 54, including several families.
This week Lippert was optimistic. One of her former customers had just been hired by BATA, the local bus company, although Lippert said she was not yet sure about her life situation at the moment. She knows that it’s harder to keep a job without having a permanent home.
“Of course it would be easier if she had an apartment,” said Lippert. “It makes everything easier.”