Half a century ago, America suffered one of the most traumatic events in our history: The assassination of President Kennedy. But while it is important to remember that, it might also be good to consider that there is a bunch of good economic news today. Good news, especially for Michigan.
Yesterday, University of Michigan economists presented their annual November forecast. They saw good things ahead, with the national economy growing almost twice as fast over the next two years as now.
Two experts from the Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics predicted five million new jobs over the next two years. Unemployment, they predict, will fall from just over seven to about six percent.
Meanwhile, they predict the automakers will sell half a million more units next year than this, more still in 2015, and the housing market will also grow. Inflation will stay low and oil prices will remain steady. This is all very good news, if true.
A non-profit group in Grand Rapids is re-energizing its effort to get people who are homeless into permanent homes.
Well House has been around since the late 1970s. About a year ago, the non-profit emergency homeless shelter Well House was in danger of closing. That’s when its new executive director Tami VandenBerg pushed the group to switch gears and provide permanent homes instead.
If you could walk into any school in Michigan and look around at the students, you might not realize it, but somewhere in there you would see students who are homeless.
There are more than 37,500 homeless students in Michigan, and that's up 66 percent in the past four years. So, even as the economy begins to struggle its way toward recovery in Michigan, we have a rising number of homeless students trying to struggle their way through school.
Joining us to talk about the challenges that homelessness poses to students and to the school districts are Angela Parth, the executive director of "The Connection Youth Services" in Livingston County, and Holly Fiedler, the homeless Liaison and Social Worker at Milan Area Schools.
"An Ingham County judge today will decide whether to let an anti-right-to-work lawsuit go forward. The ACLU of Michigan says the new state law should be tossed out because it was passed in violation of the Open Meetings Act. The suit says lawmakers deliberately locked members of the public out of the state Capitol as the legislation was introduced and passed in December," Jake Neher reports.
Michigan gets a better credit rating
Two credit rating agencies have upgraded their outlook for Michigan.
"Yesterday Fitch and Standard & Poor’s joined Moody’s in upgrading the state’s credit rating. An improved credit rating may help the state get more favorable rates when it needs to borrow money," Steve Carmody reports.
More homeless students in Michigan
"The state Department of Education says Michigan has seen a 66 percent rise in homeless students over four years. More than 37,500 homeless students attended Michigan schools in 2011-12, up from about 22,600 in 2009-10," the Associated Press reports.
Michigan organizations that help homeless people are taking part in a “snap-shot” census. The federal government requires the overnight count every other year. It’s part of the Obama administration’s plan to eradicate homelessness by 2020.
The census must happen on a single night during the last ten days of January. The count includes people who are in shelters, transitional housing, and on the street.
The shelter is housed in a former convent. On the third floor everything reeks of fresh paint. A professional paint company has donated the paint and man power to paint the walls. The long hallway is now sky-blue and the twenty rooms where the women live now have fresh coats of cotton-candy pink and lemon-yellow paint.
Terry Grahl runs the non-profit Enchanted Makeovers and she’s making this large-scale renovation happen by coordinating a symphony of volunteers and businesses. She got a church in Taylor to making curtains for all the rooms. An artist from Georgia is coming in to paint murals on the walls and the shelter is also getting new ceiling fans and new floors.
They’d heard about a similar program in Pittsburg and they were inspired. They partnered with a Detroit non-profit called Neighborhood Service Organization and together they created a mobile medical clinic.
Philip Ramsey is a community outreach specialist with NSO. (Rumor has it that if you’re trying to locate a specific homeless person, and you give Ramsey the vaguest of details, he can go out and find that person who might be living in a tent next to highway.)
It’s Ramsey’s job to drive the med team around the streets and back-alleys of Detroit and to help them locate homeless people who are in need of medical services.
So once a week, the van rumbles down Michigan Avenue past prostitutes on the corners and a young man pushing a baby stroller. Ramsey helps the team find people who are lying down on the ground or sitting on the curb. He says additional clues that someone may be homeless are people with dirty clothes and uncombed hair, or people who are openly drinking.
Homeless Awareness Week in Michigan is November 10-18. The idea is to highlight the causes of homelessness and the issues that homeless people face. There are events planned in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Port Huron, and other towns.
In Livingston County a group of people will live in their cars for 24 hours and eat only what they can buy with about $5 in food stamps, in order to raise awareness.
The Yard is a new center for homeless and runaway youth based in Wyandotte. It provides tutoring, food, computers, a washer and dryer, and a place for young people to hangout.
Jane Scarlett is the director of homeless programs at Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency. She’s says school districts call the agency on a daily basis looking for organizations that can help homeless kids in their area. But Scarlett says it’s tough to know exactly how many homeless kids are out there.
About 70 homeless people stayed at the tent city known as Camp Take Notice. But they were told to pack up and move out.
“You know, right now, this whole situation is very surreal. It feels like we are just going through the motions...I’m really going to miss it, you know, I’m just gonna miss the people," said Mary Contrucci.
Scott Ellinger and his girlfriend lived at the camp for a few months. He said, "It was a tight-knit community here, we were like family. Everybody looked out for each other."
"We really haven’t had any major problems out here. Except for a few minor incidences. We had one fire, which was accidental," said Ellinger.
It’s accidents like the fire that broke out a few months ago that state officials want to avoid. Sally Harrison is director of Rental Assistance and Homeless Solutions for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.
State officials are preparing to cordon off a stretch of highway median near Ann Arbor to keep the homeless out.
As AnnArbor.com's Ryan Stanton reports, the site is home to Camp Take Notice, a homeless community encampment that is scheduled to be shut down tomorrow. To make sure it remains unoccupied, the Michigan Department of Transportation, which owns the land, is erecting an 8-foot fence around the 9-acre site.
MDOT and the state housing authority, Stanton says, are working to provide camp residents with rent assistance and, in some cases, help moving into subsidized housing, but authorities have made it clear that residing at the campsite is no longer an option.
"We've been hearing from the community and from Camp Take Notice that the homeless have been using this area for a long time as a makeshift home," [an MDOT regional manager, Mark] Sweeney said, adding there have been complaints from nearby residents that the homeless have left the area a mess.
"We really wanted to resolve the issue once and for all," he said. "So after the camp is closed, we'll be closing off the area."
Sweeney added, "It's not against Camp Take Notice specifically, but more to prevent a homeless encampment of any kind in this location."
Graduation parties are in full-swing right now. If you had stumbled upon one recent graduation party in Howell, you would have found picnic food, party games, and a live DJ. But there was something unique about this celebration.
The seven students here celebrating their high school diplomas are also homeless. (An additional student earned a GED.)
New posters in downtown Ann Arbor businesses will ask visitors to stop giving money to panhandlers. The effort by the mayor's office and businesses asks people to give money to local resources for the homeless instead.
The posters say panhandlers often use the money to buy drugs and alcohol. This concerns some local homeless residents. They say this isn't always the case.
Even though summer has just begun, I recently visited three women who were sewing coats in a big, old industrial building in Detroit. Their goal is to make 800 coats for the homeless this year.
This isn’t just any winter coat. While it looks like a super warm jacket with an oversized hood, there’s a little flap at the bottom for your feet. This coat can double as a sleeping bag. And when it’s hot, it can be folded up into an over the shoulder satchel.
Last week, the identity of "real-life superhero Bee Sting" was revealed at an arraignment.
Now we know that "Bee Sting" is actually Adam Besso of Sterling Heights.
Besso was arrested after pulling a shotgun on a motorcyclist in a trailer park in Burton, Michigan.
Besso approached the man saying the man's motorcycle was too loud. A struggle ensued and Besso's shotgun discharged. Thankfully, no one was injured.
MLive spoke with Tom Carter, the man who was approached by Besso. Carter told MLive he was surprised when the masked man confronted him in the trailer park:
"I couldn't hear him, so I started to approach him and that's when the gun came out," said Carter, 38, about the incident with Bee Sting. "As soon as I saw the gun I was thinking I didn't want my kids to get shot."
The use of a gun has not only offended law enforcement, it offended another real-life superhero.
The White House hosted the LGBT Conference on Housing and Homelessness today in Detroit. It explored various issues lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people face when it comes to finding housing or dealing with homelessness. This was one of four such conferences the White House is hosting around the country.
The Kalamazoo County Commission Tuesday will discuss taxing home owners to help others avoid homelessness.
A coalition of groups wants the commission to agree to let voters decide later this year on a proposal to add a one-tenth mil increase on their property tax bills. The added property tax would raise about $800 thousand over four years.
The money would fund programs to prevent evictions, as well as provide vouchers for short-term and long-term housing.
If you walk around downtown Ann Arbor you may have spotted people selling something called Groundcover News. The paper is what’s known as a street newspaper. That means homeless people sell the paper for $1 and they make a profit on every issue they sell.
Groundcover News has articles about all kinds of topics written by the staff and other volunteers. But a growing number of the articles are being written by homeless people.
A federal judge’s ruling is opening the doors of Michigan’s homeless shelters to registered sex offenders.
Two years ago, a 51 year old homeless man was found frozen to death in Grand Rapids. He was turned away by a local homeless shelter because the man was a registered sex offender. The shelter was less than a thousand feet from a school, which would have been a violation of a Michigan law barring sex offenders from living that close to a school.
A newspaper says there were more than 31,000 homeless students in Michigan schools last year, an increase of more than 300 percent since 2007. Experts tell the Detroit Free Press that the reason appears to be home foreclosures across the state. In the past, schools typically heard different reasons, such as fire or domestic abuse.
Kids with no permanent address are living with relatives or friends or at shelters and motels. Nicole Larabee and her 14-year-old son have bounced from house to house in Livonia, including one with fleas. She had a $12-an-hour job but quit in 2010 for another job that fell through.
Larabee and 14-year-old son Matt are living in a friend's basement. Matt says it's hard to relax "unless you have your own place."
The state is half-way through a ten year project called Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness. The project focuses on “housing first” or “rapid re-housing.” (That means reducing the amount of time people spend in shelters and trying to quickly find them permanent housing.)
Last year the state helped 40,000 people find stable housing.
Janet Irrer is the state’s homeless programs manager. She says housing first is a more humane way to help people make changes in their lives.
“You can’t deal with life in a shelter,” she says. “You can’t reach self-sufficiency there.”
The state is required to focus on housing first programs in order to get federal funding. Irrer says housing first programs are less expensive to run and help the state save money.
The holidays often highlight family and special meals. But those can be delicate issues for some people, including homeless kids. Pam Cornell-Allen is Associate Director of Ozone House, a non-profit that helps homeless youth in Washtenaw County. She says the holidays focus on a sense of family, and that can be a tender subject for homeless kids.