Lily O’Shea Becker
November is Homeless Awareness Month and this year’s theme, “Homeless, not hopeless”, reminds us that we have the collective power to ensure that all Michiganders, regardless of age, disability or race, have a safe place to live.
We’ve proven that during the COVID-19 pandemic as policymakers have made temporary policy changes and historic investments in housing stability. Sustaining and building on these successes will better prepare Michigan to weather future crises and support thriving families and communities.
Thanks to federal funds for emergency rental assistance (ERA) and other steps to keep people safely housed during the pandemic, Michigan saw an astonishing 19% decrease in homelessness from 2019 to 2020. Another round of ERA funding in 2021 helped more than 250,000 people in our state avoid losing their homes, contributing to a further 2% decline in homelessness.
Unfortunately, this funding and other pandemic relief measures are coming to an end, threatening to reverse the progress we’ve made.
But we have a choice. We don’t have to send vulnerable people back into the trauma of homelessness. We don’t have to return to the pre-pandemic economic and social norms that have systematically taken their heaviest toll on people of color, disabled people, older adults and families with children.
As a state, we can choose to prioritize funding to continue the ERA program and increase the supply of healthy, affordable housing. Through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), Michigan invested a historic $100 million in the chronically starved Housing and Community Development Fund (HCDF) to produce new affordable housing for families directly affected by the pandemic and middle-income families as well. The positive impact of this infusion highlights the need for ongoing funding to the HCDF to meet housing demand into the future.
The Michigan League for Public Policy is proud to support bills that ensure that renters who use housing vouchers and other non-wage sources of income are treated fairly by landlords, help families devastated by eviction filings secure safe housing, and make it easier for community land trusts to keep homes affordable for struggling Michiganders. We also continue to advocate for the housing needs of residents with a disability.
We don’t have to send vulnerable people back into the trauma of homelessness. We don’t have to return to the pre-pandemic economic and social norms that have systematically taken their heaviest toll on people of color, disabled people, older adults and families with children.
The League is also a part of Resilient Homes Michigan, which is calling for investment of the state’s remaining ARPA funds in: building new homes affordable to families with low and middle incomes; home repairs to improve energy efficiency, health and safety; increasing residents’ access to clean, renewable energy; and training Michigan workers for the technical jobs to bring the proposal to fruition.
We’re excited by the possibilities raised by Michigan’s new, first-ever Statewide Housing Plan, an equity-centered proposal that aims to guide our communities in meeting housing needs and address decades of exclusionary policy.
It’s critical that policy, funding and program decisions continue to center the “Housing First” approach. This is an effective tool that recognizes that people need safe, stable homes before they can successfully address other challenges, like substance use disorders or unemployment.
Perhaps our greatest hope lies in survivors of homelessness themselves. Survivors have an intimate knowledge of how our homelessness response system works and, more importantly, how it doesn’t. They bring compassion, intelligence, resourcefulness, and extraordinary problem-solving skills. Survivors must be embedded throughout anti-homelessness efforts, not just as occasional focus group participants but as leaders, and paid as the experts they are.
At the League, we like to quote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who wrote in “The Little Prince,” “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Our goal of ending homelessness is realistic, but only if we act on it in a thoughtful, deliberate way. We’ve learned a lot about what it will take to get there from the pandemic, and if we seize this opportunity to go forward, there is every reason to be hopeful.
You can help make Michigan a better place for our unhoused neighbors by joining the Legislative Action Committee of our partner, the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, and letting your state and local officials know that now is not the time to backslide. Everyone deserves a safe place to live, and we have the resources to make that happen. We just need the political will to do it.
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