Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 30, 2014

Forum: Community engaged in housing solution


Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — By Cecil McNally

Good things are happening in Traverse City. Our community is helping neighbors experiencing homelessness through efforts that are grassroots, structured and faith-based. There isn’t one solution to ending homelessness. Traverse City is fortunate to have individuals, churches, units of government and nonprofits working together to tackle homelessness. Each tactic matters.

We are lucky to live in a place where people care, and want to be a part of a solution. New ideas for tackling big issues will always be a part of the landscape. Together, we must weigh options to ensure safety of our most vulnerable citizens, as well as all residents and visitors.

For 27 years, Goodwill has been caring for Traverse City’s homeless neighbors. We have learned that assisting those experiencing homelessness is complicated, and individual paths into housing are unique and take time.

Over 30 years ago, churches created Traverse City’s first homeless shelter. When it grew beyond what the churches envisioned, Goodwill stepped in. The shelter is now known as the Goodwill Inn. The Inn’s doors are open to people ready to help themselves. It’s a zero-tolerance operation. There are rules to keep guests safe. The structure works. Last year, 590 people stayed at the Inn. Sixty-one percent moved to permanent housing (20 percent above the state average).

In 2004, Goodwill launched Street Outreach. Trained and experienced staff meet people where they are, and assist them from the streets. No other agency is doing this. Services include referrals to medical care, meeting basic needs and assistance with job applications. Street Outreach served 228 people last year - 34 of whom moved into permanent housing or the Inn.

Ten years ago, the church community once again came together to create Safe Harbor, which provides emergency shelter in the winter. Safe Harbor is for our neighbors experiencing homelessness who may not be ready for the Goodwill Inn’s structured housing and employment programming. Safe Harbor guests may be working through complex issues, such as sobriety and mental health challenges. Goodwill employees provide professional oversight to complement the efforts of Safe Harbor volunteers. Goodwill staff are experienced in setting boundaries and addressing challenging behaviors that arise when caring for a population with deep-seated barriers to independence.

Goodwill is committed to getting people off of our streets. Permanent housing for low-income neighbors is in short supply. We are pursuing a permanent housing development through MSHDA (Michigan State Housing Development Authority). If MSHDA approves our project — named Carson Square — 11 of the 36 units will be reserved for people who are chronically homeless.

Each program has a place in our region’s collective service model. Often a person’s transition can follow a linear progression through services, from Safe Harbor or Street Outreach, to the Goodwill Inn to permanent housing.

Homelessness doesn’t happen overnight. Neither will our community’s solution to homelessness. In the meantime, I am proud to be a part of a region that is engaged in the issue and taking ownership of improving quality of life for everyone.

About the author: Cecil McNally has been Executive Director for Goodwill of Northern Michigan for 10 years. He also serves on the Greater Grand Traverse Area Continuum of Care.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.