by Karen Mead-Elford, Co-Editor
The Shiawassee County Homeless Coalition met in the Memorial Healthcare auditorium on Tuesday, Feb. 20 to continue with a discussion related to helping the homeless population. Various area agency representatives attended the meeting, including members from Ovid-Elsie Schools, since the initial suggestion of possibly utilizing an Ovid elementary school building as a shelter in a joint venture between Shiawassee and Clinton counties, piqued their interest. Executive Director Mark Criss of the Lansing City Rescue Mission, had previously suggested the location during the January meeting held at the Baker College Welcome Center. Criss had first been contacted about the needs of the homeless in Clinton County, particularly St. Johns, but recognizing that Shiawassee has an even larger homeless population, he was inspired by the concept of his Lansing-based group potentially helping both counties by locating a geographical middle ground, perhaps in Ovid.
Despite recent economic improvements, homelessness in Shiawassee County is actually up from 2016. It should be noted that 55 percent of the homeless population in the county are women and children. Statistically, there is a prevalent misconception that most of the homeless are drug abusers or prostitutes. Most local data does not support that logic.
The SafeCenter on N. Hickory Street in Owosso, under the direction of Executive Director Shelly Safi, is often near max capacity. The new warming center located in the basement of the Salvation Army Owosso Citadel that just opened earlier in February, has been seeing an average of six to eight adult individuals nightly. The warming center will run until Saturday, March 31. The overall thinking of the coalition in general seems directed at achieving a more permanent solution: a homeless shelter.
Criss returned to the Tuesday, Feb. 20 coalition meeting to further discussion related to the possibility of the Ovid location, and also concerns regarding transportation. Criss shared he had talked with William Lasher, the mayor in Ovid, about related details including the statistic that Ovid, like most areas, has a number of students that are defined as “homeless.” Ovid has approximately 22 students that currently fall under that definition.
Kim Bowen from Welcome Home Assisted Living, relayed her own story involving the purchase of the Bancroft elementary school building (Wilbur Bills), to the coalition during the meeting. Her insight involved her goal to help with veteran housing in Shiawassee County. The Bancroft project is a long-term $1.8 to $2 million investment that will ultimately help keep Bancroft on the map. Bowen shared, “There are always the naysayers out there. I call them the CAVE people, which stands for Citizens Against Virtually Everything. They are everywhere, but you just have to go through them, and you have to show them these things work.”
Casey Wilder from Shiawassee County Veterans Affairs and Services attended the meeting. She shared via a later phone conversation that just in the month of January, her office saw an increase of six homeless veterans from various age groups/backgrounds. “I can honestly say, they’re just regular people. I’ve met a lot of really good people who have just had their circumstances change unpredictably.”
The next Shiawassee County Homeless Coalition meeting is planned for Friday, March 9.