Detroit’s Homeless Population

by Dr. Chad Audi

Detroit recently made history when its state-appointed emergency manager filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, making it the largest city ever to file for bankruptcy. As Detroit works through this historic financial crisis, we also continue to attack homelessness in the city that I call home.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development just released its “Point-in-Time Count” of the nation’s homeless. The numbers are based on a count made by volunteers who fanned out across the country on a single night in January of this year.
The federal tally indicates the number of homeless in Detroit dropped less than 1-percent from the last count in 2010. The news was much better for the state of Michigan, which recorded an 11.7-percent drop. And, the entire nation saw the number of homeless drop 6.1-percent over the past three years.

On the surface, Detroit’s financial challenges can help explain why the needle barely moved on the number of homeless in the city. The unemployment rate is still high. In some cases, people are working but they’re not making enough money to maintain a home, pay for utilities, and put food on the table every night. And others have been on the streets and in an addiction for so long that they do not have the ability to turn their lives around without receiving significant supportive services.

Here at the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM), we understand that we must help the whole person when he or she comes to our doors. It’s not enough to provide the homeless with emergency shelter, food and clothing. We must ease them into transitional and permanent housing, so they can learn how to maintain a household. And, we must address the issues that are keeping them from becoming productive, tax-paying citizens. That’s why DRMM offers substance abuse treatment, education, jobs training, and skills building that will help our clients qualify for jobs or pursue their dream career.

It’s difficult to determine the accuracy of the federal government’s homeless numbers, since the point-in-time count is primarily limited to the homeless who are visible in the streets, parks, and shelters. What about those who may have found a temporary place to sleep that night or who may have been trying to stay warm in an abandoned house?

However, one thing is for sure; Detroit, the state of Michigan, and the nation will need financial support if we are to meet President Obama’s goal of eliminating homelessness by the end of 2020. Currently, congressional budget cuts are reducing the amount of funds that agencies like DRMM receive to address homelessness. A 5-percent cut in aid to emergency housing and shelter programs is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2014.

Let’s encourage Congress to reverse that budget cut, so that our progress on ending homelessness is not reversed.

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