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County Homeless Solutions coalition hopes to do more

by Candice Miller on August 25, 2014

Friday, August 22, 2014 9:52 am

By Chris Aldridge Tribune Staff Writer

BAD AXE — Kathie Harrison remembers residents telling her there are no homeless people in Huron County.

She didn’t believe them, and went so far as to start an ad hoc committee 12 years ago to explore the prevalence of homelessness in the county.

“It didn’t take us long to realize a lot of people are struggling with housing issues,” said Harrison, now executive director of the Huron County Homeless Coalition. “From there, we realized that there were some housing assistance programs in the community that weren’t being maximized.”

The Coalition, to be renamed “Huron County Homeless Solutions” in an effort to instill a more positive image, now helps 50 individuals or families every year in Huron County, she said.

On Thursday, a check from the Human Development Commission (HDC), the Coalition’s former fiduciary, helped it attain its own free-standing, 501(c)3 status.

Money received from donors, grants and partnerships help the organization operate. Still, a slim $11,000 annual budget isn’t much to work with.

“We’ll go through that very quickly,” Harrison said. “We don’t take any state or federal funds. We function on a shoestring, to say the least.”

The Coalition submitted an application for the nonprofit status and waited 16 to 17 months, without a reply, she said. Then a staff member of U.S. Rep. Candice Miller took notice.

“We knew within two weeks they were going to receive that status,” said Ed Smith, constituent services specialist for Miller’s office. “When our office federally gets involved with issues, it really can expedite the process.”

The effort will help the Coalition assist the at least 100 individuals and families in Huron County that Harrison said are homeless and not receiving help, along with the 50 families it already serves annually.

The individual stories of those that are homeless pinch a nerve for Harrison. She remembers being contacted by a young mother whose kids were sleeping in snowsuits. A veteran in Sebewaing living in a camper. A person living in ballpark dugouts in Bad Axe for days, one of which was on Christmas Eve.

But accounting for all that are homeless is difficult in Huron County. The organization can’t simply count heads like in shelters located in larger, urban areas, Harrison said. The stigma associated with being homeless also puts a damper on outreach.

And there is a misconception people may have toward homelessness, she said.

“The average age of a homeless page in our nation is 9 years old,” she said. “Most people think it’s an old man with a drinking problem laying in the gutter. It’s not. It’s a child, about 9 years old, probably a single mom, and she’s afraid to ask for help.”

The Coalition helps homeless people in Huron, Tuscola and Sanilac counties. It partners with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, Blue Water Center for Independent Living in Caro and with HDC’s housing programs.

“We’re kind of that last stop to get people into their home,” Harrison said. “They might need another $200 towards a security deposit, and that’s where we come in.”

The goal is to help people on the cusp of being evicted, those in sub-standard housing and “couch surfers,” who stay with relatives and friends but don’t have a home of their own, to find permanent housing. The Coalition also helps others organize finances and find employment.

The organization is planning an open house from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Oct. 2 at the Lodge at Oak Pointe in Caseville, 5857 Port Austin Road.

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