November has arrived again, and that means it’s Homelessness Awareness Month. It’s most important to be aware that it is possible to end homelessness, and that everyone has a role in our collective achievement of that goal.
The primary cause of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing. In Michigan, the shortage of rental units affordable to families with extremely low incomes (at or below 30% of area median income) is close to 192,000. Many of our state’s most common occupations, including those in food service, retail and home health, pay less than the $17.28 per hour a full-time worker must earn to afford a one-bedroom apartment.
According to the Michigan Campaign to End Homelessness, more than 32,000 Michiganders experienced homelessness in 2022 – an 8% increase over the previous year. This is extremely disappointing following an astounding drop of more than 20% from 2019 to 2021, the result of emergency measures (which have now expired) to keep people safely housed and financially stable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alarmingly, homelessness among youth ages 18 to 24 grew by 16% – twice the increase of the state as a whole.
Michigan’s statistics continue to reflect the persistence of systemic racism and ableism. Black Michiganders are about 15% of the general population, but 46% of the homeless population. At 28%, the share of unhoused people with at least one disability is double the rate of the state as a whole. Although explicit discrimination based on race and disability is illegal, implicit personal and systemic bias in the practices of the real estate, rental housing and lending industries continue to influence who gets access to housing and wealth-building opportunities.
Homelessness isn’t a natural phenomenon; it’s a policy choice. And that means we can choose to end it.
Some of the most important things you can do to make the end of homelessness a reality are to be welcoming of housing affordable to families with low incomes in your community; work to change the prevailing narrative about people struggling with housing instability and homelessness; and vote for lawmakers who support more inclusive housing policy.
Before you cast your next ballot, try to find out where the candidates stand on:
- Finding new resources to increase the supply of housing affordable to families with low incomes and accessible for disabled people.
- Maintaining and increasing support for the Housing First approach (allowing access to supportive housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness without preconditions such as securing employment or taking drug tests).
- Continuing the life-saving emergency rental assistance program established during the pandemic, which helped hundreds of thousands of Michiganders avoid utility shutoffs and eviction.
- Strengthening tenants’ rights through measures such as eviction record expungement, a right to counsel in eviction proceedings, and protections against discrimination based on source of income.
- Alternatives to the traditional homeownership model, including social housing and community land trusts.
- Decriminalizing the basic activities people without homes must engage in to survive.
For opportunities to weigh in on policy shaping housing security at the local, state and national levels, you can follow our state partners, such as the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness and the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, and national organizations like the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Your voice matters in the fight to secure safe, stable housing for everyone!
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