‘There’s still work to be done’

Krystle Wagner • Nov 14, 2017 at 12:00 PM

Although the number of Ottawa County residents considered homeless has declined in recent years, Lakeshore Housing Alliance Director Lyn Raymond says, “There’s still work to be done.”

Since 2015, the number of adults in Ottawa County reported as being literally homeless has decreased 13 percent, according to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report, and the decline is also being reflected in the Point In Time counts, Raymond said.

To define “homeless,” the Lakeshore Housing Alliance uses the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) definition, which identifies individuals as homeless as those living in transitional housing, emergency housing and other locations not intended for habitation. People considered chronically homeless are defined as having a disability, living in a place not intended for living, or in an emergency shelter for 12 months continuously or four times in the past three years that total 12 months.

One of the most common reasons people seek housing in shelters is for evictions, Raymond said.

Point in Time counts are conducted to provide a snapshot look at the number of people living in transitional housing, emergency shelters and in places not intended for living. According to the count taken this past January, 258 individuals in Ottawa County were considered homeless, which is down from 261 in 2016. The homeless population peaked with the January 2014 count, when 387 people were considered homeless in Ottawa County.

Raymond attributes the drop to having more resources available for long-term housing and changing the alliance’s model to end homelessness and not just address it.

People are also assessed for their risk and vulnerability to determine the type of assistance they need long term. For some, that means going through a process of emergency and transitional housing, and then permanent supported housing.

The model is also more cost effective to identify a client’s needs up front, and it helps provide the right type and amount of support, Raymond said.

Another contributing factor to the decline is that there are more opportunities for employment, Raymond said.

The statewide homeless population is also declining, according to the Ending Homelessness in Michigan 2016 report. Statewide, homelessness declined by 9 percent between 2014 and 2016. The report is based on data collected from 2014-16 by the Michigan Homeless Management Information System.

The state’s Region 4 — which includes Muskegon, Ottawa, Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Montcalm, Oceana, Newaygo, Mecosta, Mason, Lake and Osceola counties — also experienced a 2 percent decrease from 2015 to 2016.

Statewide, the average time of homelessness was 92 nights, according to the report. Locally, the average time of homelessness was 89 days for 2015-16, which is a decrease of 19 days from the previous year, Raymond said.

What’s being done to end homelessness?

At the state level, there are 2017-19 action plan goals, which include “house all veterans experiencing homelessness, reduce chronic homelessness by 20 percent annually, reduce family homelessness by 10 percent annually, reduce individual homelessness by 10 percent annually, reduce youth homelessness by 10 percent annually,” according to the report.

Locally, the Lakeshore Housing Alliance has expanded its resources and added a street outreach program, which is aimed at connecting unsheltered individuals with resources. The program is something they felt was lacking in order to address homelessness, Raymond said.

The alliance is also using a Rapid Rehousing model to help residents gain housing as quickly as possible and surrounding them with supportive services. Raymond said they also have homeless prevention programs and rental assistance programs.

The Lakeshore Housing Alliance is a program of the Greater Ottawa County United Way.

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