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Published: Wednesday, 10/18/2006

Monroe County agencies gear up to assist homeless

BY BENJAMIN ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - A long-term plan to tackle homelessness in the county aims to create more affordable housing through state and federal funds and to build collaborations between the county's social service agencies.

"We need to start communicating more between agencies so that we can create steps to help homeless individuals have long-term, sustainable home ownership," said Sandie Pierce, the continuum of care coordinator for the Monroe County Network on Homelessness and the project coordinator for the 10-year advisory committee.

The Monroe County Board of Commissioners endorsed the submission of this plan at its last board meeting. The Ten-Year Plan Advisory Committee submitted its plan to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority last Friday.

The first Michigan Homeless Summit is Oct. 24-25 in Lansing, Mich. It is in celebration of the fact that all the state's 83 counties have submitted 10-year plans to end homelessness. The state awarded each county a $10,000 planning grant in May.

Monroe's advisory committee will introduce its plan on Nov. 12 as part of activities for Homeless Awareness Week.

The plan envisions "the elimination of homelessness so every person in our community has a home that is safe, affordable, and accessible and a continuum of supportive services is available to build self-sufficiency and ensure housing is sustained."

The committee will begin applying for state grants for program implementation within the coming weeks. The deadline for these grants is Nov. 27.

"We may use these funds to help subsidize rent, to create more affordable housing units by renovating buildings, or possibly by building new units," said Joe Grifka, director of the Monroe County Human Services Collaborative Network and the director of Fairview, a county-owned transitional shelter for the chronic homeless. "What these units look like will depend on what our local community feels its needs are and what our community wants to see built."

The Chronic Homeless Initiative, Domestic Violence, and Homeless Youth grants would each be provided $500,000 over a two-year period. The Homeless Families and Children Housing Initiatives grant would provide up to $1 million.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the chronic homeless are individuals homeless for more than a year or who have had four episodes of homelessness over the last three years.

"The chronic homeless grant would provide us with staffing supports to assist a person in maintaining a home," said Ms. Pierce. "It is not only necessarily to lay the bricks and mortar. It is also a matter of getting people some life skills and housing stability skills, because sometimes it is not just about paying our rent; there are other issues going on."

According to a 2005 survey by the Monroe County Network on Homelessness, there are about 162 homeless people in the county, 87 individuals and 75 family members.

"Homelessness in Monroe County is often invisible - one doesn't typically see 'street people,' said Jane Terwilliger, director of the Monroe Community Mental Health Authority, who co-chairs the planning effort. "Yet, during the 2005-2006 school year, 170 children who were considered homeless were identified within the public school system."

Citing a five-year landmark study completed by Dennis Culhane of the University of Pennsylvania in 2001, the county's 10-year plan states that the leading reason for homelessness is a lack of affordable housing.

Following about 10,000 New York City homeless people through computer records that the city and state maintain, Mr. Culhane found that the average homeless individual used about $40,000 worth of services. It showed it is more cost-effective to house homeless people than not. The study tracked "hard costs" like emergency room visits, ambulance runs, mental health fees, and police department expenses.

"But the study did not measure the additional quality of life or economic viability costs for a city that has people of squalor living on the street," said Mr. Grifka. "It's cheaper and more humane to put people into housing as fast as possible."

Contact Benjamin Alexander-Bloch

at: babloch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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