Homeless Awareness Month
Updated: Nov 13
Interview with Diana Hanna, Director, Housing and Family Services at TrueNorth Community Services
Diana, tell me about your role.
The Housing Assessment and Resource Agency (HARA) for Newaygo, Lake, Mason and Oceana counties is located at TrueNorth Community Services. I oversee the housing services in these four counties. If someone is experiencing a housing crisis, we do an assessment to determine if they are eligible for TrueNorth’s housing programs or we connect them with referrals to other organizations or agencies. The housing programs encompass emergency services (like a shelter or hotel voucher), prevention services (to prevent eviction), and rapid re-housing programs. I have spent 30 years in the social work field and I have a masters degree in Family Studies. It is very rewarding working with my team as we serve households in our community. These households demonstrate strength and resilience, and we all learn as we work alongside them to find solutions and resources. I also serve on the West Michigan Housing Network, which is the state’s local planning body designed to address local housing issues, and to influence policy at the state level.
There are over 43 million people who are homeless in the United States. How did this become such a big problem?
Many times homelessness is the tip of the iceberg or presenting issue with other underlying issues - like a disability or a financial crisis. Many people live one paycheck away from not being able to meet their rent or mortgage payment if a crisis arises. If people did the math, it is next to impossible for someone to live off of minimum wage and save for a rainy day. People can have a job, but they still don’t have transportation, childcare, Internet and other supports that help them maintain their job.
In 2018, we knew there were approximately 65,000 homeless people in Michigan.
3600 of these people were Veterans.
44% of the Michigan homeless population has some type of disability (many have more than one disability):
28% Substance use disorder
We know this number has increased. Since COVID-19 hit in March 2020, TrueNorth has had over 500 housing crisis intakes and has helped 121 adults and 75 children find emergency shelter. We have also helped 110 households from being evicted.
“We are in an affordable housing crisis. A full time worker earning minimum wage can afford a one bedroom rental in only 12 counties in the United States. None of these are in Michigan”
Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness Website
What does homelessness look like here?
Most people think about a homeless person as someone living under an overpass in the city, not here. Homelessness in Newaygo County looks like someone living in a car, tent, shed, garage, or they are doubling-up temporarily with someone. Homelessness can happen to anyone and there is no stereotypical image of homelessness.
If someone has fallen behind on house payments or may get evicted from their apartment, what should they do? If they live in Newaygo County, they should contact TrueNorth Community Services. An Information and referral line can be accessed by calling our crisis line at 877-446-8730 or 2-1-1. It is an easy number to remember and 2-1-1 knows all of the programs in Michigan.
What are some ways that our community is working to end homelessness?
One of the required models that we follow is called “Housing First." The premise is that we first get someone housed before addressing the issues that led to their homelessness, recognizing that they will be better able to address their mental or physical health once they are stable. That was not the case 10 or 20 years ago. Our philosophy now is to get a person or family safe first and then come up with a client-centered plan to work on issues or barriers. For example, if a person needs counseling and doesn’t have a consistent place to live, he or she is less likely to follow through with the help he or she needs.
We are also working to build community relationships. TrueNorth has recently hired a Housing Navigator to assist the West Michigan Housing Network to build a landlord network to answer their questions, help them keep their empty rentals full, and assist landlords and tenants in preventing eviction. Many times, landlords want to help their tenant stay and be successful and we assist with a variety of programs to help make this a win-win situation and prevent homelessness.
Why do we have Homeless Awareness Month and how can we help?
Homeless Awareness Month is designed to highlight what we all can do to make a difference when it comes to helping people who are homeless and preventing homelessness.
Donate hygiene products, knit blankets, shampoo, food, coats or money to your favorite organization that serves the homeless.
Be respectful to individuals experiencing homelessness and connect them with TrueNorth or 2-1-1.
Stay informed about what your elected officials are doing and advocate at the local, state and federal levels.
Volunteer at your favorite organization that is working with people to be self-sufficient.
TrueNorth is also working with local libraries this month. We have provided children books about homelessness to help children and families better understand the topic. The libraries will be hosting reading times featuring these books and children will have the opportunity to draw pictures of their own homes. We have also run articles in the local papers. And our Landlord Navigator is launching a monthly landlord newsletter which will focus on homeless awareness in November.
Michigan Call 2-1-1
Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness