Homeless+Can+Get+One-stop+Help+


Curt Hecht, the Midland driver for Hidden Harvest (shown in thumbnail photo), will deliver a truckload of food to the event.

By John Palen

In the face of growing needs fueled by recession, Midland County social agencies and churches are working hard to deliver maximum help to the homeless in a one-day event November 17. Homeless Connect takes place at First United Methodist Church (315 W. Larkin St., Midland, 48640). Doors will be open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to the homeless and those at risk of losing their homes or struggling with basic needs.

"It’s a day when those who are homeless or struggling to keep in their homes can come to one place and start down the path to accessing services," said Sally York, executive director of Midland Area Homes, a key organizer of the program. The overall sponsor is the Midland County Continuum of Care.

Event organizers say the need is real and growing. The latest headcount in Midland County, conducted in January, found 327 homeless people in the county. That is a 50 percent increase over 2007.

As evidence that Midland County hasn’t escaped recession, organizers also point to a poverty rate approaching 13 percent and the fact that 31 percent of school children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The school lunch figure is an increase from 25.5 percent two years earlier.

In another gauge of the problem, requests for help with rent or mortgage payments is tied with food atop the list of calls to Midland United Way’s 2-1-1. The agency got 84 calls for each type of assistance in September.

Both housing and food needs will be addressed during Homeless Connect. In addition to applying for rent assistance and other help with housing, attendees can apply for food stamps, eat a meal prepared by Open Door Ministries, and take home a sack of food from Hidden Harvest.

According to Sharon Mortensen, chair of the continuum, "Food boxes are a great addition to this event and we hope many families struggling with basic needs will attend and make use of this valuable resource provided by Hidden Harvest."

Attendees also will be able to have a blood-pressure screening, get help to quit smoking, get a haircut, pick up winter coats, hats, gloves, socks, blankets, personal care kits and laundry detergent, and register with the state homeless management information system.

Midland area churches are taking donations of clothing and other items for the event. Participating churches include Messiah Lutheran, First United Methodist, Eagle Ridge Church of God, Blessed Sacrament, St. John’s Lutheran, Midland Reformed Church and Midland United Church of Christ. York encouraged individuals who want to donate items to contact participating churches.

Other participating agencies include Shelterhouse, Salvation Army, Department of Human Services, Mid-Michigan Community Action Agency, Community Mental Health, Midland County Health Department, more than 20 other agencies, and dozens of community volunteers.

The once-a-year event is in its fourth year, York said. Last year more than 300 people attended. The event is also open to anyone in danger of becoming homeless, York said.

Midland County Continuum of Care, the overall sponsor, is a collaborative made up of representatives from 28 agencies with the mission of providing housing-related services to those who are homeless or living in substandard housing. The Continuum of Care promotes safe, supportive shelter and affordable housing for all.

Homeless Connect is taking place just two days before the beginning of National Homeless Awareness Week, which is being marked locally with proclamations from both the Midland City Council and Midland County Board of Commissioners.

The homeless headcount numbers include some "street homeless" staying in shelters, but also those facing eviction within seven days, as well as people doubling up with friends or family who have been told to vacate premises. Someone without an identified place to live within seven days is considered homeless.

© John Palen, 2010