In December 2019, four Washtenaw County agencies were awarded millage contracts to provide supportive housing programs for youth and adults with mental health and substance use concerns. The COVID-19 pandemic altered or slowed down some of those program launches, but most are now in place, helping people in Ypsilanti and throughout the county find stable and secure housing.
The grant funds are the result of a 2017 vote that established an eight-year Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage in Washtenaw County, with about $5-6 million a year designated for county mental health programs. The four agencies that received funding were: the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, receiving $240,000 for a Housing Crisis Stabilization Program; Avalon Housing, receiving $558,000 to add staff to its supportive housing service team that serves residents across 25 properties; the Ypsilanti Housing Commission (YHC), receiving $132,500 to provide supportive housing services at the New Parkridge housing complex through the commission’s Family Empowerment Program (FEP); and Ozone House, receiving $360,000 to add beds to its Transitional Living Program. Supportive housing refers to housing that also incorporates services like job training, educational programs, transportation, or child care.
Daniel Kelly, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, says many people he talks to are “shocked” at the number of people experiencing homelessness in Washtenaw County.
Shelter Association of Washtenaw County executive director Daniel Kelly.
“We serve up to 1,500 individuals a year who are experiencing homelessness,” he says.
Kelly says that if you add in people who are not living on the street but are couch-surfing or otherwise experiencing housing instability, that number is even bigger.
“And we’re also seeing more people with really high levels of need, like medical needs or substance use,” he says. “Four years ago, only 46% of our clients had a disability, and now it’s 77%. During the pandemic, national data was showing that same trend.”
Ozone House expands support for vulnerable youth
Ypsilanti-based Ozone House’s millage funding not only allowed the organization to add four more beds to its transitional housing program, referred to as Miller House, but also to expand the ages of those it serves. Previously, the program only served youth up through age 21, but that’s been expanded through age 24 now.
Heather Brown, Ozone House’s director of youth and family services, says supportive housing prevents homelessness by providing case management, care coordination, and other services.
Ozone House’s director of youth and family services Heather Brown.
“At Miller House, young people are coming from homes that were not stable, and they might not have the skills or know what it means to live on their own,” Brown says. “At Miller House, we spend a lot of time working with them on life skills needed to live independently.”
Brown says transitional living staff and case managers help clients with everything from obtaining ID and documents to go to school or get a job to teaching them to cook and do their own laundry.
“Say someone wants to be a chef,” Brown says. “We’ll support them in finding positions where they can get these skills. We’re helping people find their dreams.”
A portion of the money clients earn goes toward paying rent, but the money is held in an account for the client and given to them when they’re ready to leave …….