2019 was a year of reflection and renewed purpose for the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. As we look back on our victories and progress, we invite you to be part of the movement to prevent and end homelessness in Michigan. to see what we can accomplish together in 2020.

Advocating for Change in Michigan

With the start of a new state legislature this year, MCAH and our Legislative Action Committee identified new policy priorities to increase access and decrease barriers to affordable housing in Michigan. We hit the ground running by educating our elected officials, partnering with powerful allies to bring in new policies, and conducting research to identify best practices in supporting solutions to ending homelessness.

Engagement with Legislators

In January, 44 new state Representatives and 29 new Senators were sworn into office, with many of them never having held state office before. This meant that MCAH had the daunting task of educating our newly elected officials about homelessness across our state. We met with legislative offices in January and February and invited Legislators and their staff to learn more at our Affordable Housing Lunch and Learn in March (co-hosted with CEDAM, Habitat for Humanity of Michigan, Michigan League for Public Policy, and Michigan Community Action Agency). Joey Lindstrom of the National Low Income Housing Coalition  (NLIHC) joined us to talk about housing trust funds and why Michigan needs to identify a permanent, sustainable funding source for the Michigan Housing and Community Development Fund.

Joey Lindstrom at Affordable Housing Lunch and Learn

Joey Lindstrom at Affordable Housing Lunch and Learn

Throughout the year we’ve continued to work with our state legislators, from our 3rd annual Homelessness Advocacy Day to our Lunch on the Lawn during the Building Michigan Communities Conference. We’ve worked with our passionate legislative Champions to introduce important new legislation and look forward to moving our priorities closer to the finish line in 2020.

2019 Homelessness Advocacy Day

State ID and Vital Docs

In late 2018, the Michigan legislature passed SB 404, creating a fee waiver for state IDs for individuals experiencing literal homelessness. After years of advocating, MCAH and our partners with the State ID Task Force celebrated by training over 700 service providers in the new Michigan Secretary of State program. While it’s too early to report numbers with implementation just beginning last spring, we’re excited about future opportunities to partner with SoS to promote the program and educate service providers around the state. 

But MCAH didn’t stop with this success. In 2019 we passed additional appropriations and advanced legislation to make it easier for individuals experiencing homelessness to access vital documents such as birth certificates. During the prolonged budget process, advocates traveled to Lansing to testify about the need to reimburse agencies that secure expensive birth certificates for their clients. When the final budget was signed in late 2019, $226,000 was appropriated for vital document reimbursements. We also fought to see bi-partisan legislation that breaks down barriers to vital documents held by the DHHS Central Registry (HB 4152 and HB 4153) advance out of the House, and we hope these bills will be heard in committee in the Senate in early 2020.

Advocates and elected officials at the House committee hearing for HB4152 and HB4153. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Kelly.

Source of Income Protections

MCAH began working with state legislators in early 2019 to create protections for renters who use alternatives sources of income – including housing choice vouchers, SSI/SSDI, veterans benefits, and other legal sources of income. Without such protections, landlords are legally permitted to refuse rental applications from individuals with these forms of payment. Potential tenants are forced to inquire after numerous rental units only to learn that the landlord will not accept their form of payment, which can result in months of searching or even losing a voucher because they can’t find a rental within the voucher deadline.

In December, Michigan legislators took the first important step in remedying this. Three pieces of legislation (HB 5287, HB 5288, and SB 687) were introduced. Over the next year, MCAH and our partners will be educating legislators, Public Housing Authorities, landlords, and the public about why this legislation will not only support our low-income renters find and maintain safe and affordable housing, but will also create stability and investment in our communities. Read more at our blog.

Reps Rabhi and Wittenberg announce source of income protection bills at press conference on November 19, 2019

Connecting with Federal Efforts

MCAH’s executive director Eric Hufnagel traveled to Washington DC twice in 2020 to learn from peer organizations across the country as a state partner of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In July, he served as the team lead for Michigan’s advocates in congressional visits during the National Alliance to End Homelessness National Conference on Ending Homelessness and Capitol Hill Day. These federal partnerships connect MCAH to innovative policy and tested initiatives that we can bring back to Michigan communities.  

Building Powerful Partnerships

We can’t do this alone. MCAH strives to partner with powerful, passionate, and creative agencies and individuals to advance our vision of a Michigan where no one is without a home. In 2019 we were fortunate to partner with truly amazing organizations and folks who share our values and are willing to do the hard work to prevent and end homelessness.

Housing for Justice-Impacted Individuals

Safe and Just Michigan (SJM) is a statewide organization that works to reduce the harm caused by both crime and unnecessary incarceration. In November, SJM partnered with MCAH and Still Standing Against Domestic Violence to host a half day summit: Homecoming – Opening Doors to Jobs and Housing for Justice-Involved People. Advocates from around the state were invited to learn about how Michigan is breaking down the barriers to housing for individuals with criminal records, including how they can help pass the groundbreaking Clean Slate legislation that would automatically expunge eligible criminal records.

Justice-impacted individuals perform an original piece about the barriers they experience trying to access employment and housing. Photo courtesy of Safe and Just Michigan.

Increasing Health and Housing Outcomes Through Integrated Systems

Seniors aged 55+ continue to experience homelessness at increasing rates in Michigan. To understand the unique health care factors that contribute to their homelessness, MCAH created a new initiative in Oakland County funded by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund. Late in 2019, we began the hard work of assembling a stakeholder table of medical professionals, service providers, and aging population specialists to discuss what a more integrated housing and healthcare system could look like. We’re learning about the many gaps and opportunities that exist in this community and will continue to investigate how we can improve housing and health outcomes for the county’s seniors in 2020.

Michigan Homeless Speakers Bureau

The first class of the Michigan Homeless Speakers Bureau traveled around the state in 2019 to share their experiences of homelessness, but one special project captured our imagination. Dr. Ben Lauren, Assistant Professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, & American Cultures at Michigan State University, invited MCAH’s speakers to participate in a creative process of recording their stories and pairing them with original music. Each speaker was connected with an MSU composer – some students, some professors – to share their stories and guide the direction of their original song. The result is a soundtrack of spoken word art pieces that capture the pain of homelessness as well as the joy and hope the speakers experienced even during the hardest times of their lives.

Terri, a member of the Michigan Homeless Speakers Bureau, poses with the banner from an event where she was the keynote.

Day of Action

The Our Homes Our Voices Day of Action in May was our chance to coordinate public awareness raising activities in some of Michigan’s major metro areas. We partnered with agencies out of Grand Rapids, Detroit, Lansing, and Traverse City to screen the film Owned: A Tale of Two Americas and discuss local issues through panels of housing and homelessness experts. Our panelists tackled the tough issues of how to address racist policies locally and what we can be doing from a community perspective to end the housing shortage. 

Empowering Communities Through Education and Outreach

Far too often we see stereotypes of homelessness in our media and public discourse. Moving past this narrative requires an educated general public and decision makers. It also means that we who work with individuals experiencing homelessness take a look at our own actions and attitudes in order to improve how we approach our work. In 2019 MCAH provided additional tools and opportunities for us all to strengthen how we address issues of homelessness.

Building the Skills to Succeed

Ken Kraybill of C4 Innovations trains homelessness service providers in Marquette

To be our most effective, we must empower our agencies and communities with the very best tools and resources to do the local work necessary to end homelessness. In 2019 we held trainings across the state:

  • MIchgian SoS Fee Waiver Program – five webinars and 1 place based training by MCAH and members of the State ID Taskforce touching over 700 service providers
  • Motivational Interviewing – three place based trainings by C4 Innovates in Gaylord, Lansing, and Detroit touching over 150 individuals
  • Anti-Racism for Homeless Service Providers – an introduction and advanced level training by staff from the SPARC initiative in Lansing touching over 90 individuals
  • Applying Best Practices For Homeless Services and Supportive Housing and Motivational Interviewing Training – two day training opportunity in Marquette for service providers in northern Michigan
  • Enhancing Skills in Strengths-Based Case Management – three placed based trainings by C4 Innovates in Gaylord, Lansing, and Detroit touching over 125 case managers
  • Trauma Informed Supervision – two place based trainings by C4 Innovates in Lansing and Detroit touching over 50 supervisors

Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness AmeriCorps Program

In 2019, our Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness AmeriCorps program celebrated 10  years of AmeriCorps members serving across the state. In this program, our 23 members serve in one of three positions (Housing Search and Information Specialist, Outreach Specialist, and Resource Generation and Management Specialist) to provide direct, comprehensive services to those experiencing or at-risk of homelessness. Since 2009, our members have provided services to over 30,000 individuals.

During this year, MCAH also launched the Capacity Building to End Homelessness AmeriCorps VISTA Program, with VISTA members serving at 8 agencies across the state. The VISTAs provide capacity-building services such as creating partnerships and networks, leveraging financial resources, facilitating community engagement and awareness, and volunteer recruitment and management in order to help these agencies become more effective and efficient in providing services, while creating sustainability. Since the program’s launch in August, our VISTAs have recruited and/or managed volunteers, leveraged cash and in-kind donations, have been active in hosting and attending community engagement events, and have submitted grants on behalf of their host sites and partner organizations.

Michigan Homeless Awareness Month

Every November Michigan recognizes Homeless Awareness Month with a statewide public awareness campaign and local community events about experiences of homelessness and the work being done to combat this crisis. The 2019 theme, “This is what home means to me” asked folks to reflect on all the things that make a home – from a bed and roof to the emotional support of loved ones. During this month MCAH’s AmeriCorps VISTA member traveled around the state to events from shelter openings to art exhibits to an original play featuring real stories of individual homelessness.

House of Hope Grand Opening, part of the 2019 Michigan Homeless Awareness Month

Looking Forward

We may be wrapping up the decade, but we don’t have time to slow down. Our housing crisis only continues to grow, and Michigan’s homeless count is increasing. MCAH will continue to bring your voice to Lansing and Washington DC as we advocate for the solutions to prevent and end homelessness.

Our Homes, Our Votes 2020

MCAH is excited to be one of four organizations across the country to be granted funds by the Our Homes, Our Votes 2020 campaign to conduct voter education and candidate engagement for the 2020 election! We’ll be surveying state and congressional candidates, registering staff, volunteers, and individuals experiencing homelessness to vote, hosting community events, and creating original educational materials to ensure that housing is a voting issue in 2020.

Executive Director Eric Hufnagel announces that MCAH has been awarded a grant with the Our Homes, Our Votes 2020 campaign.

Addressing Poverty in Michigan

This December, Governor Whitmer created the Michigan Poverty Task Force to investigate issues of poverty in our state and make recommendations to address these issues. MCAH looks forward to educating members of the Task Force about experiences of homelessness and encouraging them to make housing affordability a priority in 2020.

Investigating Racism in Our Work

In 2018 African Americans made up 53% of Michigan’s homeless population despite being only 14% of our total population. In order to overcome the racist policies, practices, and attitudes that impact our approach to ending homelessness, we must take a deep look at our work. In 2020, MCAH will continue to work with Michigan homeless service providers and members of the SPARC initiative to bring anti-racist approaches to homelessness into Michigan.

Celebrating our Champions

MCAH’s 7th annual Breakfast of Champions will be held May 28 in Lansing. We invite you to nominate someone for one of our 4 Champion awards and to join us as a Sponsor or purchase your ticket online. You won’t want to miss this inspiring event as we hear from an industry expert and celebrate those who are making a difference in our communities and in the lives of those experiencing homelessness.

Will You Join Us?

As we begin 2020, we invite you to participate in the mission of empowering communities to end homelessness in Michigan. Become an and participate in our Legislative Action Committee to guide our policy priorities and legislative engagement. Or sign up your organization to receive discounts to our trainings and events. Your support drives the movement to prevent and end homelessness in Michigan. Join us to see what we can accomplish together in 2020.

By Laurel Burchfield, MCAH Manager of Marketing, Growth, and Development. You can contact her at: lburchfield@mihomeless.org.