JACKSON, Mich. — Tasha Carter is the executive director of Residents in Action.
“We were really focused on mitigating the spread and preventing the spread of COVID from ravaging specifically the Black and the poor communities like it was in other communities,” she said.
But, the group has turned their focus to helping another group in Jackson – people experiencing homelessness.
“What we’ve seen is it is a greater issue, ranging from people not having a system of support to people not knowing how to navigate the various resources that are available to the issue with the city where we have a shortage [of affordable housing],” Carter said. “I think the Community Action Agency did a study and identified we were 20,000 units short in Jackson. I think some of the decisions with previous City Councils was demolishing hundreds of buildings without a parallel strategy to build back up, so we’re experiencing that domino effect now. We’re finding that people have income, but they don’t have options for affordable housing.”
They’re partnering with the city of Jackson in a recent ramped-up effort to help the unhoused by giving shelter to 25 unique individuals or families over 13 weeks.
The proposal includes providing Residents in Action $198,720 for hotel stays for homeless individuals and families, food and other supplies for those who are being helped and to cover administrative costs. The program started on New Year's Day and runs through March 31.
“We surpassed that number [of 25 people] within three days, and now today, we have 140 people who have inquired, so that’s a whole lot more than 25,” Carter said. “We’ve actually housed double that and have over 80 people waiting on the list now. It’s a greater need than what was initially anticipated.”
This is how it works. Residents in Action developed an initial intake process so any person who contacts them will be asked a series of questions to better understand their needs. Then, they prioritize whose needs are the greatest through an algorithm and put them in their partnered hotels Travelodge and America’s Best Inn.
If necessary, they will direct them to the Community Action Agency or the Department of Health and Human Services.
“I think it’s a blessing that we get this opportunity to serve the community and help the community out the way that we are, and I’m super happy that I’m part of this in being able to join this community and help them,” Travelodge Front Desk Manager Theo Mannor said.
The group covers the hotel stay. Food is coordinated at least once per day, and they have collaborated with different businesses locally along with individuals.
“I know that everybody wasn’t happy about Residents in Action being awarded this request for proposal by the city, but truly if you are committed to systems change, knowing what the grim statistics have been, if you are committed to systems change, you need to do something different and they did,” Carter said.
But, why now?
“I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a new issue by any means, but it’s something that’s getting more attention, and it’s becoming more of a visual problem around the community,” Public Information Officer Aaron Dimick said. “We’ve had a lot of people coming to City Council meetings and talking to elected officials asking the city to intervene and do something with our resources.”
And, they did. City Council is also in the process of acquiring 10 pallet homes purchased in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act along with working on a lease agreement with Jackson Public Schools to use their vacant T.A. Wilson Academy property.
“I think there’s this idea of yes, we need to get people off streets and into a safe location, but the family living in a hotel or motel is not a permanent solution by any means or providing a vacant school as a shelter isn’t necessarily going to help overall with the housing situation,” Dimick said. “This is something that we can do immediately to get people into safer situations, and then, we’re going to have to look long-term as to what we can do to provide more affordable housing, whether that’s using the entire T.A. Wilson facility for some kind of housing facility or us buying an apartment building or some other building to do housing.”
According to Dimick, the city is ready to step up to the plate and help people experiencing homelessness.
“We keep the swings swinging and the toilets flushing and the potholes filled but doing something with homelessness is something incredibly new to us, so we feel like it’s important to be leaders in the community like our nonprofits and residents and different groups in the community to come together to help with this issue,” he said.
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