Expert Q & A | May 22, 2007
State of Michigan
What is the newest issue emerging in homelessness policy?
The homeless population today in Michigan is not who most people suspect. These are often hard working citizens who play by the rules. They include families with children and they may be employed. If finances are tight, particularly in these tough economic times, many citizens have no savings or safety net for unplanned events, and that means they can end up homeless. Because of that we have seen significant changes in the composition of Michigan's homeless population. Today, the majority of our homeless are families -- they accounted for 56 percent of the 80,000 homeless identified in 2006. Additionally, 33 percent of the homeless are actually working, and tragically that number has been increasing.
What issue in homelessness policy should everyone be reminded of?
We have learned from the many successful homeless initiatives across the country that you must take a comprehensive approach to this problem. Successful efforts have attacked the problem on many different fronts, and have included a system for measuring progress. We must provide funding to implement adaptable policies at the local level, learning from national best practices. For example, we now know that one key barrier to ending homelessness is timely access to critical assistance, ranging from childcare to mental health services. Rather than reinventing the wheel, our 60 local plans in Michigan are implementing solutions that have worked around the country.
How did you start working in the field of homelessness (or housing)?
I entered public service because I believe that we have a duty to one another as people and as citizens. When I first took office as Governor, I challenged my department heads to think big, especially for problems like homelessness that victimize the most vulnerable and impoverished amongst us. I see this as something that should never afflict citizens in a nation with as many resources and as much ingenuity as we have collectively.
We had the good fortune to bring Michael DeVos to Michigan as the Executive Director of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. His remarkable experience and expertise, along with his deep commitment to ending homelessness, is an incredible asset for us. Since his arrival in 2005, he has brought about real change by bringing together state agencies and numerous local partners to collaborate on our initiatives to fight homelessness, including the Michigan Campaign to End Homelessness. It also was their collective efforts and vision that created the environment that made it possible to encourage and produce our 60 individual Community Plans to End Homelessness.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
I am inspired every day by the amazing people who I work with and who are so deeply committed to Michigan and to helping the people of our state.
Why do you think ending homelessness is possible?
We know how to solve this problem – the solutions are straightforward, it’s just a matter of committing to get the solutions in place. I've said it before, and it bears repeating – we will realize our vision of ending homelessness in Michigan because the collective capacity of our compassion is greater than the depth of this challenge.
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