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State report: Homelessness ticks up in Michigan

Miriam Elamine
Southwest Solutions

More than 65,000 people in Michigan experienced homelessness last year, up about 3% from 2017, according to an annual report from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

The report’s data is based off counts entered into a statewide agency from homeless service providers across the state. It counts the “literally homeless”—people living in shelters, on the streets, in cars, or in places like abandoned homes. It does not count people who live with friends or family members to avoid homelessness.

The report finds that homelessness among veterans and young people 18-24 continued to decline. But it’s up among families and seniors, says Kelly Rose, chief housing solutions officer with MSHDA.

And Rose says stark racial disparities continue. “African Americans are about 13% of Michigan’s overall population, yet 52% of people who are experiencing homelessness in Michigan are African American,” she says.

Homelessness is a multi-faceted issue, but Rose says part of the reason homelessness is ticking up is that housing prices are ticking up faster than incomes, and affordable housing for the lowest-income people and families remains scarce.

“More and more folks are spending a larger percentage of their income on housing,” Rose says. “And we know for a lot of folks that creates a really unstable situation. If they’re spending more than half of their income on housing, that means they’re having to forego a lot of other things, and it puts them one crisis away from a possible eviction, where they’re unable to pay their rent.”

Since 2016, homelessness is up most sharply in West Michigan, the northeastern Lower Peninsula, and the Upper Peninsula. Rose says in places like Kent and Ottawa Counties, a strong job market is attracting people, but a low vacancy rate and hot housing market leaves the poor with few affordable options. In more rural areas, a lack of new housing and older housing stock leaves homes inaccessible to the most vulnerable people, such as those with disabilities.

Rose says MSHDA has a “housing first philosophy” that prioritizes getting those with the most difficulties into stable housing before addressing other needs. She says that, along with efforts to create more affordable housing options and getting more landlords involved in subsidized housing programs, are priorities going forward.

“Some folks will resolve homelessness on their own after a short period of homelessness, to where they don’t need financial assistance to get back on their feet,” Rose says. “So [if] we’re trying to focus our efforts and our resources on those who are least likely to be able to solve the crisis themselves, that’s where we’re going to see our biggest gains.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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