Our homeless-serving programs are featured in this article from NeighborWorks America.
Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most celebrated groundhog, scurried back into his tunnel Feb. 2. According to folklore, that means winter will continue for six more weeks—continuing a season that included a “bomb cyclone” that, in many areas, was the most frigid stretch of weather surrounding New Year’s in recorded history.
Frigid winters can cause a lot of inconvenience, but for low-income people, it often is life-threatening. Our network members have found many ways to help. Here are a few examples:
Outreach to homeless people
The number of people who are homeless is decreasing in many areas of the country, including the city of Detroit—where the “point-in-time” count in January found 2,078 people on the streets or in shelters. That’s a drop of 20 percent from 2015, due in large part to the city’s “housing-first” policy. However, there still are many individuals living on the streets, and when extremely cold weather hits, they are among the most vulnerable.
The Fox News TV affiliate in Detroit recently featured the work of NeighborWorks network member Southwest Solutions, which seeks to find these people and assure they get the help they need to stay healthy and safe.
“It can really be a matter of life and death. We took several people to the hospital last week and this week who had frostbite,” Julie Woodhouse Dressler, a team member with Southwest Solutions, told the TV station. “One person [had an] infection they’re afraid will spread to his bones and result in amputation.”
Dressler and her colleagues serve on a PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) team. During severe cold snaps, their priorities are more urgent and short-term than usual. Mariam Elamine, another team member, says they usually do a lot more paperwork, trying to get people benefits or into long-term housing. But when temperatures plummet, she told local public radio, “It’s survival mode. It’s all hands on deck—do what we can do to get these folks out of the cold, get them through the night, get them into shelters.”
Jamie Ebaugh, director of the nonprofit’s Housing Resource Center, explains: “We’ve been doing street outreach to the homeless for 12 years at least. Ten years ago, I was doing outreach myself and got frostbite on my knuckles. You don’t know you have it until you have it. It was like a third-degree burn; it was the most painful experience I’ve ever had.”
Initially, Ebaugh says, the organization’s work was funded by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), and thus its outreach focused on identifying and serving homeless individuals with severe, persistent mental illness. Two years ago, however, the city added funding to serve all others who are homeless in Detroit. The differently funded teams work together, with his organization covering all of the downtown district—with the largest number of homeless people, since that’s the best spot for panhandling—and the southwest neighborhoods.
“It takes a special type of person to do this work,” muses Ebaugh. “You either love it really quickly or hate it. You know early on, because it doesn’t get better. You need to have a passion for impacting the lives of the vulnerable.”
In addition to its outreach work, Southwest Solutions acts as the central intake site for individuals who need to be channeled into housing, specializing in families with children and referring others to the right services.