Housing the homeless despite pandemic challenges

September 1st, 2020
Serena McCloud and Anthony Clemons (photos provided by them)

Anthony Clemons had been living in an abandoned house in Detroit for more than three years. He was working at a warehouse, but his low wages were being garnished, and he couldn’t afford rent anywhere.

“I was just surviving day to day, basically, not knowing if something better was possible” said Anthony, 46.

Serena McCloud had no place to stay after a series of personal problems, including the breakdown of her marriage, loss of work and dealing with depression. So she went to a shelter to spend her nights, while volunteering during the day at a food pantry.

“I was raised to help people and I’ve always had compassion for the homeless,” said Serena, 53. “Then suddenly, I became homeless myself. But I wanted to continue to give back.”

Anthony and Serena both applied for permanent supportive housing through the Coordinated Assessment Model (CAM Detroit), which is the concerted effort by homeless providers and stakeholders to address homelessness in Detroit. Southwest Solutions is the Lead Agency in the CAM.

The Covid crisis has posed many challenges for transitioning homeless individuals and families into permanent supportive housing (PSH). Despite the challenges, 172 households have gained housing through referrals from the CAM since the Stay in Place order from the Governor on March 23.

The referrals are made to PSH programs operated by various organizations. Southwest Solutions’ PSH program is based at our Housing Resource Center, and Anthony and Serena were referred to our program for assistance.

Serena was housed just before the Stay in Place order began. Karen Belle, Housing Locator Specialist at Southwest Solutions, showed Serena an apartment in southwest Detroit. As soon as she entered the unit, Serena knew this was the place for her, and she began to cry tears of appreciation and relief.

“I felt overjoyed,” Serena said. “I thought about all the people in the shelter where I was, and I wished I could take them with me. There’s nothing like having a place of your own.”

To help her maintain stable housing, Serena receives support from a Clinical Housing Specialist at Southwest Solutions, Kimberly Goodson. Kimberly arranged for basic furniture and household goods for Serena’s new home. She has also been communicating regularly with Serena through “telehealth” sessions to help address Serena’s mental health needs and connect her with additional resources and services so she can recover from homelessness and pursue personal goals, like regaining employment. Telehealth, rather than in-person interaction, is necessary because of Covid precautions, and it is reimbursed by the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network (DWIHN) .

“When I was homeless, I’d often felt that nobody really cares about me and what will happen to me,” Serena. “But then people like Karen, Kimberly and others come along and showed that they care and want to help. It’s overwhelming, and I thank God that they came into my life and saved me from despair.”

Karen and Kimberly also helped Anthony settle into his own place. Anthony moved into his apartment on the west side in July. He is one of 22 individuals who were homeless that Southwest Solutions’ PSH program has housed in the last two months, despite the challenges of the ongoing Covid crisis.

“I feel very lucky to get a place during this time,” Anthony said. “I can feel my life getting back to normal.”

Anthony is hoping to secure good-paying, sustainable employment. Before the Stay in Place order, he had attended an FCA job readiness class offered by Detroit at Work so he can apply to work in the new auto assembly plant being built on the east side. Anthony will no longer have his wages garnished as before, since recent DNA tests showed that he is not the father of two children for whom he was paying child support.

“With this news, a place to call home, and a chance to work, I feel it’s a new beginning for me,” Anthony said.

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