Does Washtenaw County have sufficient infrastructure to keep people warm this weekend?

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.]

NorthMainWarming2There 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.”

MisfitMarch1Wander, 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

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  1. Karl
    Posted January 4, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Ann Arbor has close to $1 million to turn the property into a park, but not $200,000 to help the Delonis Center stay open during the day.


  2. anonymous
    Posted January 4, 2014 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    The money to make the park would come from grants.

    From The Ann Arbor Chronicle:

    “A commitment of up to $750,000 from the city’s general fund – to undertake planned improvements to the city-owned property at 721 N. Main – has been made by the Ann Arbor city council in action taken at its June 17, 2013 meeting. The commitment is a requirement for a grant application that the city is making to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund for $300,000.

    If the city’s plan unfolds as it expects, then none of the $750,000 in general fund money would be needed.

    The improvements to 721 N. Main have resulted from work done by a North Main corridor improvement task force that has been working at the direction of the city council since the summer of 2012 to make recommendations for the corridor.

    Of the $1.2 million estimated cost for the planned trail and stormwater improvements to the site, the city plans to use $150,000 from the city’s stormwater fund. To cover part of the remaining $1.05 million, the city hopes to use $600,000 from a grant it it’s applied for from the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) – through SEMCOG’s transportation alternatives program (TAP).”

  3. Greg Pratt
    Posted January 4, 2014 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Even if we get access to 721 for the rest of the winter, the immediate need by Tuesday will be too quick for us to get the heaters installed. What if we opened up the justice center at city hall A2 as a “ride-out-the-storm” temporary humanitarian crisis warming center? I write this knowing fully well that some who are currently living outside might be wary of coming to close to the cop shop. Thoughts anyone?

  4. Sheri Wander
    Posted January 4, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Yes some definitely will be skeptical about being that close to the cop shop. If we think we can get it it still seems worth it. Just to give people one more alternative. Alternately is there a downtown church it would be willing to provide emergency storm shelter beyond the rotating shelter. I’m thinking especially about First United Methodist Church who let people sleep outside the doors all summer spring and fall. Or first Baptist also did so. Or St. Mary’s which has been so supportive of Mission. Other good candidates seem church the incarnation and Joe Summers.

  5. koosh
    Posted January 4, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    if a person wanted to shelter a person for the next couple of nights, who should they contact. if everyone adopted a homeless person, maybe no one would have to die.

  6. anonymous
    Posted January 4, 2014 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    How about closer to home, in Ypsilanti? Are any churches opening their doors to the homeless and those without heat?

  7. Quinn Phillips
    Posted January 4, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for helping raise awareness about homelessness in our area, Mark. The scarcity of affordable housing and emergency shelter for adults is a potentially life-threatening crisis. I was fortunate enough to tag along with county workers who were checking on people who will be sleeping in tents this weekend. We handed out supplies and made sure that people had a plan for where to go if they got too cold, especially if the warming center was not an option. It’s heartbreaking how much work must be done with so few resources. It was some comfort to see how dedicated teams like PORT are to making sure people are safe. If anyone knows of a young person (ages 10-20) who needs shelter please call Ozone House 662-2222. There are open beds for minors needing emergency housing.

  8. Meta
    Posted January 4, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Meanwhile at the Ann Arbor News.

    Milk, bread and other staples were on the minds of storm-wary folks.

    Stephen Holzhauer of Scio Township was stocking up on juice, bread, meat and milk for himself, his daughter and 2-year-old granddaughter at Meijer. He said during the last snowstorm he was stuck at home for three days because a bad knee keeps him from being able to shovel and he didn’t have anyone to help. This time he was making sure he had enough supplies to last for a while.

    Sarah Seger said she drove to Meijer from Manchester to lay in a supply of fruits and vegetables ahead of the storm. She said she’s not really worried about it though.

    “It’s Michigan. I love it,” she said.

    Read more:

  9. Posted January 4, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    The Ann Arbor District Library is closed on Sunday because of the storm.

  10. One Question
    Posted January 4, 2014 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    As I understand it, young homeless people can turn to Ozone House, and homeless men, if Delonis is full, can try “rotating” into one of the local churches. What about women and families? Where do they turn?

  11. Posted January 4, 2014 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    I hadn’t heard about the library, Ed. That’s certainly going to make things worse for our at-risk population. Do you know if the city has come forward with an emergency plan?

  12. Posted January 4, 2014 at 10:00 pm | Permalink


  13. Posted January 4, 2014 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    One Question: see the link posted above for shelter options. housing access number is currently operated by Salvation Army. There is a “single point of entry” so anyone can contact the various shelters around the area, but they will be directed to call 734-961-1999 [housing access number] in order to get in the system to get a referral to one of the shelters.

    Also you are correct, there is a rotating shelter. From Nov. 15- March, 25 men stay one week at a church. There are a number of qualifications many homeless persons do not meet and the schedule is very rigid.

    Women and Children: as noted above, Ozone has resources for those 10-20. Alpha House and the Salvation Army have shelter for women and children. But my understanding is that they are all at capacity.

  14. Posted January 4, 2014 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    Sorry for the lack of clarity, long day. The rotating shelter runs from Nov- March
    25 men is the capacity.

  15. Posted January 4, 2014 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    According to Greg, they’ve been getting a lot of support online today. Thanks to all of you who have contributed.

    Here’s Greg’s update:

    Thanks to all who donated to MISSION A2 today.

    A brief breakdown:
    $120.00 in online cash
    82ea 16.4 oz canisters of propane [!!!!!!!!]
    15ea 6-packs of socks
    10 coats
    3 sleeping bags/bedrolls
    5 blankets
    2 union suits
    Several pairs of boots, pairs of gloves, hats

    Special thanks to Zishaan, Caren, Terry, Maxwell, Alyssa, Mutant, Mark, Peter Aleksashka Mark for the donations, Mark for writing the blog and all who shared it.

  16. Posted January 4, 2014 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Mark, thanks again to you, all your readers for the support, sharing, and resources.

    We are planning on attending A2 City Council on Monday Night [starts at 7pm, 2nd floor A2 City Hall]

    We are meeting tomorrow at St. Andrews Church for the breakfast at 730 to make a plan for city council. I know many people are fired up and ready to take action to help people get into warm places. People who are interested in this aspect should contact me at
    Thanks again.

  17. Eel
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    What about the Mayor’s office or the City Council chambers? Both are heated and unused at the present. And, no, I’m not joking.

  18. Posted January 5, 2014 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    I know that it is too late for those heaters to be installed at 721 N. Main for the next few days, but there is plenty of winter left, we cannot give up on finding a more sustainable use of that space. Also, we need to get the heaters out of storage and placed somewhere, before Wednesday January 15, due to planned remodeling in our facility. We just don’t have room to store them any longer. Any ideas for a temporary home for those units? I will deliver them in exchange for a non-profit tax receipt, that was the deal I made to obtain them in the first place.

    Also, to second some of the comments above, the North Main Task Force was indeed a hand-picked group, designed to give the results that the mayor and a small group of developers wanted… as with most things the city does, the fix was in long before the report was written. $6 million to refurbish those buildings? Are they roofing them with gold?

    We are getting close to the time for more radical action here in Ann Arbor, as the wealth gap widens…

  19. Posted January 5, 2014 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    I like Eel’s idea because it is warm, right downtown and therefore close to the resources my friends access on a daily basis in order to survive.

    Report back on donations/ actions taken with them:
    Today we had 25 guests at our house at 3501 Stone School over the course of 10am-5pm
    People took showers, washed clothes, did community chores and watched a couple movies.
    We gave away many socks, gloves, coats, boots. People left with good feelings
    I delivered 24 ea 16.4 propane tanks, two cases of water, multiple gloves hats socks and hand warmers to folks living in tents right now. Still have 59 canisters of propane left.
    Also spoke with my friend Jason Prince who is a team coordinator for PORT [homeless medical outreach]. We “coordinated” [go figure] with each other so he wasn’t bringing water to folks I just dropped off water and other supplies to etc.

    Thanks again for all your support.

  20. facebook stalker
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    A letter to Ann Arbor politicians:

    It is well known that the needs of homeless people in Ann Arbor are not being met by the City. The recent “amnesty” to allow people inside the Delonis Center during the day is a start, but with the severe weather imminent, and the known number of people in need, I am distressed that there does not appear to be any plan to keep people from freezing to death on our streets.

    This is simply not negotiable. Any City property that can offer people shelter from the cold for 24 hours/day until the emergency has passed must be opened and made available. There can be no dickering about budgets on long-term v. short term goals – this is happening now and must be dealt with now.

    I understand several people have requested time to speak on this issue at the Monday council meeting. I urge you to grant the time and to promptly respond with your plan to protect our most vulnerable residents.

    Thank you,

    Denise Heberle
    Heberle & Finnegan, PLLC
    2580 Craig Road
    Ann Arbor, MI 48103

  21. Posted January 6, 2014 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    Jeff, thanks for this! I look forward to connecting with you soon. Probably makes the most sense to store those at 3501 Stone School, the MISSION A2 house. We are a 501(c)3 org.

  22. anonymous
    Posted January 6, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    From the Ann Arbor News:

    “Monday is set to be one of the coldest days in these parts in a long time. In the morning hours, the wind chill is expected to dip down to between minus 5 and minus 10 degrees.

    At about 5 p.m., even icier air will move into the area: Mosteiko said the wind chill will be at minus 25 degrees by that time. There might even be a little bit of new snow, he said.

    “We are expecting snow showers later this afternoon,” he said. “Really light stuff, not a lot of accumulation; less than half an inch.”

    Record lows are possible overnight between Monday and Tuesday, when temperatures could reach minus 14 degrees. The all-time record low temperature for Jan. 6 is minus 12 degrees, set in 1884, according to University of Michigan officials.

    Mosteiko said the wind chill on Tuesday morning could be a bone-chilling minus 40 degrees.”

  23. Cindil
    Posted January 6, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    I found this article VERY enlightening and disheartening, especially because Ann Arbor proudly professes to be a “liberal” city. As a social worker, and former resident of Ann Arbor, I believe that this should serve as a serious “come to Jesus” moment for Ann Arbor city officials. There HAS to be a solution.

    I spent a year doing crisis management and advocacy work at New York City’s Coalition for the Homeless, and NYC has a policy called “code blue”. Essentially, if temperatures drop below freezing then city shelters are legally required to give people shelter, regardless of past infractions or levels of inebriation. This policy applies to any adult or child who is homeless. Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with Ann Arbor or Ypsi’s policies on homelessness, but I’m wondering if there is any legal ground or justification that could be used to get the homeless residents of Washtenaw County shelter during this time? I know it’s a long shot, but it may be worth looking into – there could possibly be a policy loophole that could help leverage the argument justifying the use 721 North Main as an emergency warming station.

    Lastly, I am seriously disheartened that the Delonis Center and other area shelters are so quick to expel homeless residents who have a history of substance abuse from their grounds. Especially considering that there are so few options in the county. Having been a shelter monitor and homeless advocate, I understand the safety concerns of housing someone who is intoxicated or high, that being said, there are more humane, effective options that could be used to deal with the issue. These organizations should seriously consider reevaluating their organizational values and shifting to a more human rights based approach.

  24. Mr. X
    Posted January 6, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    The city responds:

    “Warming options expanding for Ann Arbor area homeless during extreme cold”

  25. a2alum
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    In the comments that have been made so far, nobody has mentioned that the Ann Arbor District Library as well as the Blake Transit Center already serve as daytime warming centers for Ann Arbor’s homeless population. The Ann Arbor District Library even has a homeless outreach coordinator. It is her job to reach out to Ann Arbor’s homeless population to let them kow that they are always welcome as long as they don’t violate library rules.

  26. Meta
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    The city of Ann Arbor failed to get the state money they needed to develop 721 North Main as a greenway park. Does that make the warming center more of a reality?

    The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund’s board of trustees met in December to recommend to the Michigan Legislature that 76 recreation development projects and land acquisitions totaling $27.7 million be funded in 2014.

    But the city of Ann Arbor’s request for $300,000 to help develop a greenway anchor park on city-owned land at 721 N. Main St. didn’t make the list.

    “At this point, the next step for the 721 N. Main project has not been determined,” said Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager.

    Read more:

  27. Meta
    Posted January 24, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    The city will begin evicting those camping on public land.

    Ann Arbor officials have given a homeless encampment calling itself “Troll Village” 48 hours to remove their belongings — including several tents — from under a bridge, and local advocates for the camp say that deadline ends at noon Friday.

    The advocates working with the camp, which includes about 10 to 15 homeless people living in tents under a bridge near Fuller Road and the University of Michigan Hospital, say it’s uncertain what the camp will do next.

    Read more:

  28. Posted January 17, 2015 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    The Delonis Center does not allow people who use marijuana to live there. This includes people who are legal medical marijuana patients. Thus, if a person needs marijuana to medicate health problems, like migraines or seizures, etc., they must stop using this medication if they want shelter at the Delonis Center. Seizures or indoor shelter? Incapacitating migraines or indoor shelter? Extreme anxiety or indoor shelter? Which choice is best? Many people would prefer to camp in a tent, in the woods, where they can manage their health problems in the way that they have found works best for them.

    The Delonis Center has to have this policy to keep its funding, which is partially FEDERAL. I really think this issue needs to be discussed so that the community has a better understanding of why some people choose not to go to the shelter.

    Thanks so much, Mark, for covering this issue!! Indeed, we have a humanitarian crisis on our hands, worldwide. Does everyone realize that almost half of the world’s population does not have access to proper sanitation (that means TOILETS!!)? Or that 2/3 of the world does not have access to clean drinking water? (and they consider our tap water to be part of the 1/3 of the water that is CLEAN — sheesh.. you should see the clumps of black flakes that come out of my tap sometimes…)

    It is time to stop being scared of and prejudice toward the poor and the homeless. THEY ARE PEOPLE, People! Some of the comments on this issue in local articles are stomach-turningly mean/cold.

    If everyone ate only organic food, the world would be a much more compassionate place.

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