Local organizations and community partners are working together to try and end homelessness for 64 youth in Wexford, Missaukee and Manistee counties.
Cynthia Arneson, executive director of Staircase Youth Services, an outreach organization that provides youth and family intervention services, said the counties were elected along with four other communities in the nation to do a 100-day challenge to end youth homelessness.
“This challenge is about community members and agencies coming together to try to find better ways to service our youth who are facing homelessness,‘ Staircase employee Dakota Morris wrote in a statement to the Cadillac News.
The idea is that in 100 days, 64 unstably housed youth and young adults, ages 14 to 24, who are unaccompanied or head of household will be safe and stably housed.
Of the 64 youth, 45% will be identified through McKinney-Vento, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Community Mental Health and Juvenile Justice and 55% will be identified through the homeless crisis response team, Morris said.
The challenge is part of a United States Department of Housing and Urban Development project led by the Rapid Results Institute. When people have a time frame they are willing to drop other things and help come up with creative solutions, Arneson said.
On Wednesday, June 26, Staircase Youth Services, Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency and other community partners met for the 50-day mark of the challenge to discuss their progress.
The organizations had stably housed 16 youth and young adults, 12 of whom were from the crisis response team and four who were referred from community partners.
Usually Staircase Youth Services serves 20 youths in the three counties in a year, Arneson said.
At the meeting, the different organizations discussed what they were doing right and what they could improve on. They also set three new goals going forward:
1. Engage and empower community partners and get people to help identify people and subpopulations of people who need help getting housed.
2. Innovate and adapt existing housing sources for youth.
3. Make sure the procedures for housing people that are in place are equitable for youth and young adults.
Staircase Youth Services uses a host home model, but that might not be ideal for someone who is 21, 22, 23 years old, Arneson said.
So they are looking at shared housing and funding for youth and looking to recruit apartment complexes for housing them.
When it comes to being equitable, when people ask for help with homelessness there is a screening process for them. Some people who are older in their 40s or 50s might be housed before the youth because they’ve been homeless longer and might have more problems.
But if the organizations can get a youth out of homelessness when they are 19 or 20 then they can get them working on their goals and there will be a greater chance they are not homeless when they are in their 30s, she said.
As of January 2018, Michigan had an estimated 8,351 people experiencing homelessness on any given day. Of that total, 604 were unaccompanied young adults, ages 18-24, according to the Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Public school data reported to the U.S. Department of Education during the 2016-2017 school year shows that an estimated 39,092 public school students experienced homelessness over the course of the year.
Of that total, 611 students were unsheltered, 8,044 were in shelters, 2,514 were in hotels or motels, and 27,923 were “doubled up.‘
Arneson said that 48% of the homeless youth on the list that were referred were couch surfing and the average length of homelessness was 13 days once the agency was aware of them.
Couch surfing is if someone has no place to stay and all of their time and energy is spent trying to find the next place to spend the night. Naturally they are focusing on putting a roof over their head and not on things like education, she said.
It would be like a high schooler staying at a classmate’s house but then the parents saying they need to leave after a couple of days.
“So they don’t have a permanent home,‘ she said. “They’re always looking for someplace to lay their head at night.‘
Homeless youth are more likely to be couch surfing in this community than out on the literal streets for a couple of reasons. One is it’s too cold in the winter and the second is people in rural America are pretty hospitable and it’s not unusual to have three to four families in a two-bedroom home, Arneson said.
Technically they’re not homeless, but when there’s 12 people in a two-bedroom house “it’s just waiting for disaster in my mind,‘ she said.
Although it stops them from being on the street, it can be a fire hazard to have that many people in such small a space and it doesn’t provide a household where people can reach their goals, she said.
If youth ages 14 to 24 need help they can call Staircase Youth Services’ crisis line at 1-888-267-6086. People ages 18 to 24 can call the Northwest Community Action Agency’s homelessness hotline number, which is 844-900-0500.
If people want to get involved and help end youth homelessness they can volunteer to be host homes for the young people, Arneson said.
The agency likes to have three host homes in each county so when a youth calls them at 11 p.m. on a Friday night because they were kicked out of their home they can have somewhere to go, she said.
Host homes receive a stipend of $420 a month, $15 a night. Some youth need the support for 18 months but the average is around eight to 10 months. Short-term houses can also be available for the youth for two to three weeks, she said.
If people are interested in helping they can call Staircase Youth Services at (231) 843-3200 or Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency at (231) 775-9781.