LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – With reports of a growing homeless population in Ingham County, city and county officials are looking for solutions.
“We have to do things differently,” says First Ward Lansing City Council member Ryan Kost. “The ‘we’ve always done it this way’ model no longer works.”
His criticism comes after a week of evictions from homeless encampments and as the city struggles to find the best use of $800,000 in state money to address homelessness.
Lansing Mayor Andy Schor says the city is doing what it can.
“We do what we’re supposed to do in terms of helping people,” he says. “Now we are seeing more camps. “We are seeing them in more public places.”
Schor acknowledges that the city is facing an increase in homelessness and that raids are not a long-term answer.
With an unexpected allocation from the state budget of $800,000 for the homeless, he says he wants input.
And so does the city’s Human Relations and Community Services Advisory Board. The agency will hold a public session on Thursday, February 15 from 5 to 7 pm at the Foster Community Center to receive input on how to spend state money.
“You know, you hear all kinds of complaints, but we want to hear what people think are good solutions using the $800,000,” Schor says.
He says he is interested in exploring solutions similar to those used in Reno, NV. There, using federal COVID dollars, officials created an emergency shelter that served as a safe, unique place to begin a journey from homelessness to safe, affordable housing. Drastically reduced the number of homeless people: by 60 percent NewsNation reported in December, and virtually eliminated homeless encampments.
Julia Miller is director of Punch with Lunch Lansing. It’s a nonprofit that provides harm reduction services and helps people experiencing substance abuse and homelessness, and everything in between.
She says she has long advocated for a tent city model and is encouraged that city officials want new ideas.
“It’s great that he’s willing to look at different ideas,” he says of Schor.
Both she and Kost told 6 News the journey from homelessness to safe, affordable housing is a long and complicated process. First, a person has to want to find housing, and that also means overcoming the stigma of asking for help. Once someone asks for help, it can take months to negotiate paperwork and get approval for assistance. Then there’s the search for a safe, affordable place to rent in the midst of a housing crisis.
Kost tells 6 News that responses to homelessness have been very good with saying there are resources available, which he characterized as the first step, but not very good with follow-up steps.
Miller notes that accessing housing often means gaining access to mental health services and substance use disorder treatment.
6 News exclusively learned tonight that Ingham County leaders are also preparing to use their power to help.
Ingham County Commission Chairman Ryan Sebolt says leaders met Thursday night and had a “lively discussion” about advancing a project to help improve the declining housing stock and create solutions shelter for the community’s homeless population.
The discussion is very early, but the leadership – he says – is ready to move forward.
A millage, Miller warns, could have a negative impact: pushing more people already living in financial hardship into homelessness. But he acknowledges that taxes are one of the few ways the government can tap needed cash.
Ultimately, city and county governments are on the verge of redefining the local response to homelessness: an entire community reacts to help the whole person.
For Miller, that “gives me some hope.”