During the months of March, April and May, there was a significant homelessness crisis in Shiawassee County surrounding the events of COVID-19. A coalition of organizations including the United Way, the Salvation Army, the Shiawassee County Health Department, Shiawassee Health and Wellness, SafeCenter, (CACS), the Disability Network and other nonprofits met weekly on Zoom meetings to address the crisis in various areas. The area where The Salvation Army played the greatest role was the homelessness situation.
“We received an unprecedented number of phone calls and requests for help for homelessness during the COVID-19 crisis,” explained Lt. Justin Steckbauer. “We don’t really understand exactly what caused the rise, but we speculate that it involved many who were couch-surfing at the time, being kicked out by friends and families who feared infection. We also saw an increase in mental health related homelessness, and drug and alcohol related homelessness. We became aware of increased domestic violence, as families spent a great deal of time isolated, in small houses. We also saw an uptick of out of town and out of state visitors who found themselves stranded away from home during the crisis. Several individuals also found themselves laid off and unable to access unemployment during the early stages of the crisis.”
The Salvation Army responded by setting up a partnership with the Pines Country Inn with help from local leaders like Marlene Webster, The United Way and the Cook Foundation. During the crisis, the Salvation Army provided motel vouchers through the Pines and the Welcome Inn for 97 families and individuals in emergency homeless situations, some with small children and newborns. The Salvation Army provided a total of 528 bed nights to those in need, with a total cost of over $25,866, $13,500 of which came from The Salvation Army’s Emergency Shelter Program. An additional $5,000 was provided by the United Way, as well as another $6,000 from the Shiawassee Homeless Coalition Continuity of Care (COC.) The Salvation Army Citadel in Owosso provided an additional $1,558 from general operating funds.
The unprecedented gathering and united effort of local nonprofits and churches to help those in need will continue into the future. And the Salvation Army will be continuing to provide services as the crisis continues, and the needs begin to shift and evolve. Currently, the Salvation Army has exhausted their funds for homelessness alleviation, but are attempting to gain additional funds soon.
Several heartening stories emerged from the homelessness crisis, of many individuals who gained housing and employment and are now volunteering with local nonprofits to give back. Several families with small children were housed long enough for the parents to find more stable housing, as well.
During the COVID-19 crisis the Salvation Army of Shiawassee County has provided 772 individuals with daily “to-go” meals, and 161 food boxes were given out from the pantry. Additionally, over 125 care packages were left at the front doors of needy areas in the community.