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Posted on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 1:41 p.m.

Ann Arbor's homeless seek refuge from winter weather at Delonis Center overnight warming shelter

By Ryan J. Stanton

Single-digit temperatures have led dozens of homeless people in Ann Arbor to seek refuge at the Delonis Center's overnight warming center, but no one is being turned away.

"We have not had to turn anyone away so far this winter due to capacity," said Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, which runs the Delonis Center homeless shelter at 312 W. Huron St. near downtown Ann Arbor.

Schulmeister said operation of the shelter's winter programs began Nov. 19, which is when its overnight warming center opened for the season.

The overnight warming center has a capacity of 65 people, and it's been averaging about 47 people per night. It was up to 53 people during an especially cold night earlier this week.

Schulmeister said the numbers the shelter is seeing this year are no different than in past years with normal winter temperatures. However, the numbers are up slightly from last winter, which Schulmeister noted was much milder and allowed more people to stay outside.


The Delonis Center's overnight warming center has a capacity of 65 people, and it's been averaging about 47 people per night. It was up to 53 people during an especially cold night earlier this week. file photo

In addition to running the warming center, the Shelter Association, as it has done in past winters, once again has partnered with 16 local churches to provide a so-called "rotating shelter." Each church takes responsibility for housing 25 men overnight for one week, and the participants in rotation must be sober.

Mayor John Hieftje said at this week's City Council meeting he's glad to say no one in Ann Arbor has had to sleep out in the cold last winter or this winter.

"Ann Arbor has a very advanced system of care for homeless individuals," he said, adding it's one of only two cities he knows of in the state that still funds human services out of its general fund.

"These are very hard times when you have such cold nights," Hieftje said. "But I know all through last year and going into this year, the plan was that no one would be turned away. And they even established a way to accommodate those who may show up under the influence of drugs or alcohol."

Those who want to stay at the Delonis Center's overnight warming center must have a blood-alcohol level of 0.1 or less. Schulmeister said the shelter doesn't test for drugs.

If someone has a blood-alcohol level that exceeds the limit, Schulmeister said the shelter will transport them to what the shelter calls the "engagement center" or to the emergency room. They also can leave and come back when their blood-alcohol level is lower if they choose.

The program runs from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Schulmeister noted the community has made a commitment to move as many people as possible from the shelter's winter programs to housing or into the shelter's regular residential program, which provides intense focus on ending homelessness by moving people to housing.

How can I get into shelter?

Homeless families in Washtenaw County will be assessed for shelter by calling the Housing Access Line at 734-961-1999 Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

"Thanks to this commitment, five people have already moved to housing and 18 have been moved to the residential program and are currently working toward income and housing," she said.

Schulmeister said it's important to note all of the programs mentioned are for individuals without dependent children.

"Families do not have any warming center-type facilities in our community and some are trying to survive in cars," she said.

Julie Steiner, executive director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, said she recently became aware of a family living in an unheated garage.

"We do have quite a few families who are homeless," she said.

She said families account for about half the homeless people in Washtenaw County, but most of them are living in shelters or doubled up with other households on a temporary basis. Sometimes that means the children sleep inside and one of the parents stay outside in a car.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Mon, Feb 25, 2013 : 5:48 p.m.

Although SOS Community Services is not a homeless shelter it does help with housing for homeless families. SOS has a program called Adopt-An-Apartment that helps families move into more permanent housing.

Kimberly A. Smith

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 4:29 p.m.

I would just like to make a small correction to the above article. The 'so-called engagement center' is an actual place. It is "The Home of New Vision's Engagement Center" and they, also, provide an invaluable service to our community. It is a sobering facility that assists people with addictions in getting on the road to recovery. HNV is an amazing group of people who offer a lot of different types of services to persons suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction. The Engagement Center is the first step in that process. They save lives.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 1:50 p.m.

Are there any *churches* in the neighborhood that regularly take in the homeless?


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 10:11 p.m.

Overflow/rotating shelter is at St. Luke Lutheran church this week, too.

ms 2013

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 9:52 p.m.

keep doing it

Sheri Wander

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 9:49 p.m.

I am deeply grateful for the Delonis Center and the rotating shelter! Yes, as the article notes it is great to be in a community where there are such resources. Yet I respectful disagree with Mayor John Hieftje that "no one in Ann Arbor has had to sleep out in the cold last winter or this winter." Not only, as was pointed out in the article, is there a lack of adequate shelter for families with Children but there are individuals who have been sleeping outside on even these coldest nights. I know this first hand from delivering propane for camping heaters and sleeping bags. One could argue that "these folks choose to do this because there is room at the shelter" , and that might be one way to look at it. It is also true that we can look at the word "choice" more critically and for many traditional shelters are simply not workable due to a variety of factors. For example, for someone with an anxiety disorder the large number of people in the a relatively small space of the shelter can be triggering. For this reason I am also deeply grateful to all the folks who have worked the Camp Take Notice. Self governing tent communities such as Camp Take Notice (CTN) can provide and important thread in the fabric of a "safety net". Not "instead of" more traditional shelters, but as an alternative, another choice. A space that although outside offers the chance for folks to look out for one another and provide support to each other. A place where people won't be isolated as those currently outside far too often are. As CTN looks to find a new location I keep those outside on these cold nights in my thoughts and prayers.

Caleb G Poirier

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 9:11 p.m.

(a response to) music to my ear: Thank you for your interest and for the question. The state of Michigan paired the closing of Camp Take Notice with (40) one year in length subsidies for forty campers. Currently those campers that were lucky enough to be at camp on the day that this deal was made are half way through their allotted time. Those subsidies are for one year only and they will not be extended. As can be expected, many if not most of these residents will return to homelessness this summer. An additional segment of the former Camp Take Notice population (for various reason ineligible for the subsidy) is doubling up inside the apartments of those that were able to achieve a one year reprieve. I overheard a friend use these words to describe this situation: "[the fear and anxiety that the residents have about returning at the end of their leases to homelessness] is it's own kind of cruelty."


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 12:09 p.m.

Beautifully stated, Caleb.

music to my ear

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 9:35 p.m.

the men and women of camp take notice are victims of their own demise regardless they are in a sad situation no one wakes up and says I think I will be homeless.I know the very insecure feeling they feel, as a child in Detroit we were evicted a lot thank god for the generosity of family and friends who helped us along the way.there has to be a service they can provide to earn money. good luck campers

Jamie Pitts

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 8:03 p.m.

Glad that we're being reminded of the plight of the homeless. It would be great as well to have some basic facilities for the homeless during the day, especially in winter. It is practical, as many folks who stay overnight will then need some place to occasionally warm up during the day. The argument that this will attract more homeless people should not dissuade us from doing this sort of thing. Every urban center, if concentrated enough, will have homeless people looking for a way to get by. Not giving folks some cost-free but regulated space to "be" means that homeless people will seek shelter in spaces that are not intended or designed to accommodate them.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 11:38 p.m.

There is a lot of places to go during the day. Most go to their jobs (yes the homeless do have jobs). Some go to the library, treatment facilities for substance abuse. Of course, the shelter is open when the weather is really cold so said persons do not freeze to death outside. There are resources andany of the agencies that serve the homeless have access to those resources. We are there to help and expect people to come in for the help that they need. Whether is a bus token, a clinic appointment, or even a hot meal. It is our job and we do it because we are passionate about getting these folks off the street and in to housing. Sorry to rant, but this needed to be said. :)

music to my ear

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 9:24 p.m.

and most cities have some unoccupied buildings, it would be nice if we the public can donate blankets and other items regardless we know they are there by their own demise but open the buildings and let homeless in "for the winter" I am grateful for all I have and get sad to hear these stories

music to my ear

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 7:26 p.m.

were the group from Camp take notice there, or did they go south for the winter, I cant imagine having to be out in this weather long. and it is only volunteer if they want to go to the shelter. I am praying parents with kids get them out of the cars .if not then the state needs to step in and do what is right. get the kids shelter.