Washtenaw Shelter Association Needs Help to Keep Up with Need in Ypsilanti

A shelter house interior view.

You know how dire the housing crisis is in Washtenaw County? Current was just about done with an article highlighting and praising a new effort for two churches in Ypsilanti volunteering to lend out their space to the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, the anti-homelessness wing of the county government, to get some of the unhoused out of the weather at night and try and get them out of crisis and back into permanent housing. However, the article Current nearly published is already out of date

A shelter house interior view.

At the two old locations, the Association was “capped at 25 people, just because of size. And we’ve been seeing significantly more than that recently,” Daniel Kelly, the executive director at the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, said in the aftermath. He added that the Association found themselves having to house 46 people in the Ypsilanti area in the last few days. “Our goal is to never turn people away who need [shelter.] In fact, if we go back to last week when it was really cold at night, we had almost 70 people.”

A replacement church has been found that is capable of housing more people, but Kelly said that the church had asked to not be identified. Unlike the churches that were until recently volunteering with the Shelter Association, this church isn’t in Ypsilanti.

To gain access, you can contact the Delonnis Center in downtown Ann Arbor that the Association works out of at 734-662-2829. If you are unhoused and in Ypsilanti, they will be able to pick you up and take you to their overnight shelter.

It is possible that the two old locations in churches at River and Huron Streets may take unhoused people in the future, if one of two things happens. Either enough permeant housing solutions are found to allow demand to go down or Kelly finds a solution to another problem that his organization has: staffing.

Kelly needs staff to supervise shelters at night. His staff are already spread thin to keep shelters guests safe and he is always looking for volunteers to help staff supervise shelter safety overnight.

You can volunteer to be an overnight volunteer, or take on other volunteer roles, through the Shelter Association’s website. Volunteers will need to go through some training before being sent to help people, the details of which, are available online.

Financial and in-kind donations are also accepted online and through the mail. You can also donate items at the Shelter Association’s headquarters at 312 West Huron Street, which is situated on the northside of the thoroughfare between the Ashley Street surface lot and the raised train racks. A wish list of highly needed items is available.

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Evictions spiked after the housing moratorium that the federal government imposed to protect people during the shutdowns of the pandemic era expired. The median price of Washtenaw County’s 159,296 housing units was $336,300 in 2022, with an average mortgage of $2,015 per month, according to the US Census Bureau. Only about three-fifths of those are owner occupied though, meaning the rest of us are saddled with an average rent of $1,335 per month as of 2022. The average per capita income may be $84,245 a year, but it is of course uneven, with the census finding that 13.6 percent of Washtenaw County residents were impoverished in 2022.

Developers tend to argue that the long term solution to the cost of housing is to repeal government regulation to allow them to build enough to meet demand; in contrast to progressive thinking about housing costs, which tends to argue for rent control, or mandating that multifamily developments set aside a set number of units as affordable. Doing the latter is currently illegal under Michigan State Law. Rep. Carrie Rheingans, a Democrat whose forty-seventh district covers parts of Washtenaw and Jackson Counties, has introduced a bill to repeal this, but it is yet to reach a full vote in the Michigan House of Representatives.

“I do think that we need some kind of rent control,” Washtenaw County Commissioner Caroline Sanders, whose Fourth District covers the part of Ypsilanti Township covering the side of town of the Washtenaw Avenue and Packard Road corridors, said. Sanders is juggling complaints from renting constituents.

When asked about potential solutions Sanders said, “Now, I believe in the free market. If I own property, I don’t know if I would like somebody telling me that I can only rent for this much. But what are we supposed to do? Either we’re going to end up with a situation where we only have well-to-do folks living in our county, which doesn’t lead towards any sort of compassion or equity, or we’re going to have a whole lot more people living on the street. This really is a workforce issue where you can’t hire people, or people turn down offers, because the cost of living is cost prohibitive.”\

Pro-business groups, like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, oppose this legislation, arguing along classical liberal principles that government regulation unnecessarily gums up the works of building new housing, delaying the process, thus raising prices for everyone.

“We have a supply issue, but we also have a price issue, and we can only work on it if we attack both problems,” Katie Jones, the City of Ypsilanti’s equity and economic development coordinator, said. “Our homelessness problem is also attached to the housing problem. [If we don’t] acknowledge it as part of the same cycle. That’s a county and regional problem and not a city of Ypsilanti problem.”

The Shelter Association also has a daytime homelessness program at the Freight House in Ypsilanti. This provides a place to get out of the weather, obtain new clothing and social services, as well as find new work.

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