Homeless services centralized

Published 3:04 pm Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cass County residents facing homelessness now have a better, easier way to get help.
Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency (SMCAA) has become the central, starting point for Cass County residents who are either homeless or at risk of it.
“People often don’t know where to turn for rental assistance, utility help or any number of other needs that put them on the brink of homelessness,” said Jenifer Keller, Cass County housing specialist. “Now we are establishing a single place where people can go.”
The new one-stop centers are called Housing Assessment and Resource Agencies (HARAs).
Housing Resource specialists meet with those facing housing crises, identify needs and develop plans to end or prevent homelessness.
The HARAs are just beginning in many parts of the state, but they are already creating tighter networks of public and private agencies helping struggling residents.
The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) is providing technical assistance.
The HARAs will also help communities to identify needs and gaps and address them.
Rural communities, for instance, have transportation challenges because services are often more spread out geographically.
SMCAA has operated the Decatur Family Shelter since 1999 and has assisted hundreds of homeless people in their journey towards independence.
“We are delighted to be a part of this new system because we can help our struggling friends and neighbors regain their footing sooner,” Keller said.
SMCAA offers several housing programs in Cass County.
The programs range from homeless assistance, eviction prevention and help with security deposit/first month’s rent.
If someone is in need of housing assistance, contact Jenifer Keller with SMCAA at the Cass County Department of Human Services office, (269) 445-0229.
Jenifer will assess eligibility and provide assistance to meet individual housing needs.
Homelessness remains a serious problem in Michigan.
About 100,000 residents were homeless at some point in 2010, about the same number as in 2009, according to Homelessness Management Information System data.
The Cass Housing Continuum of Care counted 34 homeless in 2008, 99 homeless in 2009 and 68 homeless in 2011.
“It is far more costly to keep people in shelters than to find them a stable place to live, especially when you consider not only the costs of shelters and hotels, but also added costs of people cycling in and out of emergency rooms as a result of living on the streets,” said Janet Irrer, homeless program manager for MSDHA.