Service providers offering assistance to those in a housing crisis gathered on Wednesday, Jan. 31, at the Lee Township Community Center to advocate for the community’s homeless population. (Photo by Virginia Ransbottom)Shirley Kay was one of the Love INC volunteers behind the scenes dishing out soup for a free meal to the homeless and to those providing them assistance. Free care bags, cold medicines and hats, gloves and coats were also offered. (Photo by Virginia Ransbottom)

Homeless Connect pools services where needed

By: 
Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

With a high concentration of Allegan County’s homeless population in the Pullman area, Love In the Name of Christ of NW Allegan County hosted its second annual Project Homeless Connect event on Wednesday, Jan. 31, at the Lee Township Community Center.

The event had three purposes. It brought services to people in need of stable housing. It increased collaborative efforts between organizations on how best to advocate for those facing a housing crisis. It served as a method to help count the sheltered and unsheltered homeless for the annual Point in Time Count, mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine federal funding for local homeless services.

Homeless individuals already seeking help and those who were tracked down in the woods, garages or campers were invited to the community center for a free lunch, care bags and solutions for each individual situation.

“Level One homelessness also includes someone living in a transitional home that has an exit date and those living in an unsuitable shelter such as a car, tent or camper,” said Allegan County Housing Resource Specialist Tara Wilkes. “It’s a challenge in rural areas where there isn’t a homeless shelter.”

Wilkes said emergency housing assistance is available for the homeless, which might include a brief hotel stay until a rental unit can be found. While assistance is given to secure a lease, those seeking assistance must sign the lease and pay the rent going forward.

Many times Allegan County’s homeless are referred to Ottawa, Kent or Kalamazoo county homeless shelters—although transportation is a problem and causes other relocation barriers.

Even after tracking down those considered homeless, some don’t believe they fit the label.

“We’ve had some people living year-round in campers say they’re not homeless because they have a place to stay,” said Love Inc. clearinghouse coordinator Ann Hatfield.

In the first hour of the event, Jennifer Easton of the Department of Health and Human Services said she helped three people with applications.

One person was seeking utility assistance for deliverable fuel, which the DHHS can contribute up to $850 per service. Another person was checking on the status of an application since they had no phone to call. The third person was “couch surfing” and asked for help with rent. She applied for assistance but without employment to sustain rent, she was also referred to the next table manned by West Michigan Works.

“We assist people in a career transition whether underemployed or unemployed,” said assistant manager Angelica Gallegos. “We have training dollars available for workforce development.”

Renewed Hope Health Clinic manager Marcia Marque said it was the first time she attended the event and made connections with Jose Galaviz of the DHHS Migrant Program.

“He said there is a need for health care services among migrant workers in the Pullman area and we started a plan for Jose to bring workers and their families to the clinic, since transportation is a problem,” she said.

Other agencies echoed concerns that transportation for those facing homelessness was a problem in the area. Although Allegan County has public transportation, people struggling with a housing crisis live in need on a day-to-day basis and often cannot reserve a bus in advance since their needs change daily.

Renewed Hope Health Clinic is located in Allegan, about 18 miles from Pullman. The clinic offers free medical care to the uninsured or underinsured. They also offer mental health services, an assistance program for reduced or no cost medications and assistance with applications for Social Security disability, Medicaid and Medicare. 

Last year, 17 people sought assistance at the Project Homeless Connect event. This year, 13 homeless people utilized the services offered.

Other organizations on hand to help were Arbor Circle (formerly Pathways) who provide counseling services for support and treatment of substance abuse and mental health issues and community reentry programs for those incarcerated; Community Action Allegan County offered support for food assistance, utility assistance, child care, senior transportation and homebound food deliveries; Allegan County Veteran Services for personal emergency response to veterans; and Van Buren County Intermediate School District offered free books and programs to build strong families.

Love Inc. associate director Martha Cerda said mobilizing churches, volunteers and community resources is beginning to have an impact on one of the poorest communities in Allegan County.

“There are those in the labor force showing a passion to see the community thrive,” she said. “Pullman is starting to turn the corner.

Cerda said although Pullman has 700 homes available in the community, there is a struggle for suitable housing. Cerda said.

“People have to have jobs to impact home remodeling and to get a job people need education and commerce, so we’re working on those three things—education, housing and economic development.

With the opening of The Linking Center on May 15, non-profit People Helping People volunteers will be working to link the community to educational resources they might not otherwise have had by offering training and life skills through children’s programming, West Michigan Works, 4-H, reading and homework, a GED program and basketball leagues—to name a few.

Love Inc., is next door to The Linking Center. It offers a life skills program and a food pantry, clothing and baby needs. Those enrolled in the program can access the pantry  weekly. Those who don’t enroll have more limited access.

Lists of available resources in Allegan County or by location can be found by visiting www.loveincnwa.org/getting-help.html.

Virginia Ransbottom can be contacted at vransbottom@allegannews.com or at (269) 673-5534.

 

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