With yet another huge winter storm system headed our way, and temperatures expected to reach well below 0 °F by the end of this weekend, I reached out to several people who work with Washtenaw County’s homeless population, asking a relatively simple question…. “Do we have warming center capacity in the Ypsi-Arbor area sufficient to accommodate those in our community who do not have access to heated shelter, especially those 500 or more individuals who have been identified as chronically homeless?”
One of the first people I heard back from was Sheri Wander from Ann Arbor’s Mercy House. Here’s what Sheri had to say.
“There is not sufficient warming center capacity here in A2/Ypsi. In short, there is no warming center. The Delonis shelter is full. Meaning all the bed spaces are full. At night they open a warming center, which serves as an overflow shelter, by allowing people who are eligible to sleep on yoga mats on the floor of their cafeteria. This is done on a fist-come first-serve basis each night. And I’m told it’s also full most nights. Additionally, there is the rotating shelter (or, as folks call it, simply “rotating”) for men, where area congregations allow folks to sleep in their buildings at night. This is also full. All of these spaces are night time only, and folks need to leave between 7:00 and 8:00 AM. They cannot return until evening. There is currently no day time warming center in the area. Instead, the Delonis shelter has what they call ‘weather amnesty.’ When the temperature dips below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, people can come in during the day.”
[note: When Sheri refers to those “who are eligible,” she means those who can pass a breathalyzer, and who haven’t been removed from the Delonis Center in the past. Depending on the infraction, people can be kept off the Delonis Center property for a week, a month, a year, or even permanently.]
There has, as you may have heard, been movement on the part of various organizers within the homeless community to turn a vacant building at 721 North Main, in Ann Arbor, into a temporary warming center. It would appear, however, that they’re not making much headway with the City, which wants to tear down the publicly-owned building, and convert the property to a greenway park. Here, with more on that initiative, as well as other possible alternatives, is Greg Pratt from Mission A2, the non-profit initially formed to support the activities of the Ann Arbor homeless encampment Camp Take Notice.
“Regardless of the City’s plan for the future of the property, 721 North Main could be used until the weather turns this spring. That, to me is very realistic. We don’t, however, have to get hung up on that one location… We could look at other vacant spaces in the downtown area. The thing about 721, however, is its proximity to all the resources homeless persons need to access on a regular basis: Delonis, PORT, PATH, CSTS, and churches that provide meals, etc.”
As for the reality of a warming center at 721 North Main, Pratt took to Facebook yesterday to say the following: “We need a warming center. We have the space, some tools and people willing to work on this. 721 North Main is empty. We have heaters ready-to-install.”
Wander, Pratt and others have also been pushing for a change in policy at the Delonis Center. On New Year’s Eve a group of homeless individuals and their supporters, under the “Camp Misfit” banner, marched through downtown Ann Arbor, demanding that the Delonis Center stay open on winter days, and not just on days where the temperature drops below 10 °F. The following clip comes by way of Michigan Radio.
…”At 30 degrees you have a risk of frostbite,” says Ryan Sample, “and at 45 (degrees), you have a risk of hypothermia with wet clothes.”
Tracy Williams adds, “The Centers for Disease Control says people should be able to get out of the cold if it is 40 degrees or colder. That is what we want.”
Unfortunately, it’s not in the budget, says Ellen Schulmeister, Executive Director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County.
She says it would cost an additional $200,000 to keep the shelter open most of the winter in daytime hours, and there’s just no money for that…
Assuming it’s as cold tomorrow as people expect, I imagine that the Delonis Center will be open. The problem, however, will likely be transportation, as we’re also expecting another foot of snow, and blizzard-like conditions. When I asked Wander if transportation would be available for those who might not be able to make it in on their own, or if efforts were being made to get people into facilities prior to the storm, she responded by suggesting that people donate bus passes or money for cab fare to Mission A2. (Contact information can be found on their website.) And, of course, if you personally know of someone who is homeless, you could either offer transportation to a facility, or share your home for the duration of the storm.
Those wishing to get more involved are encouraged to attend a Sunday evening meal at 3501 Stone School Road. (Look for the blue and white circus tent just south of the I-94 overpass on Stone School Road.) Given the approaching storm, I’m told there will not be a meeting tomorrow, but on other Sundays you will find people there by 6:00 PM. The food is provided by a rotating group of activists from local churches, and meals are immediately followed by a public meeting, during which Camp Take Notice community memebers collectively make decisions about what resources they need from Mission A2, community outreach tactics, etc. People relay information, share stories and usually leave sometime between 8:00 and 8:30 PM.
Lastly, I wanted to share this from Greg Pratt.
“We have a humanitarian crisis on our hands. Right in our back yard. This is a time for us as a community to decide whether it’s right to continue to allow people with mental illness, trauma from any number of reasons, and suffering with substance abuse and “dual diagnoses” to be relegated to living conditions that are unsafe and unnecessarily harsh. It’s time for us to become aware that the best way to ensure our security… that’s right, the security and safety of our own families… is to ensure that those living around us have access to the same/similar resources and social supports that the rest of us do.”
TAKE ACTION: Donate to Mission A2