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Posted on Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 6:04 a.m.

Non-profit organization looks for new Ann Arbor location due to forced move off Washtenaw County property

By Tina Reed

A brown, nondescript building on the Washtenaw County Service Center campus at Hogback and Washtenaw doesn’t look like much — no more than an afterthought among a few mismatched old buildings that remain on the property.

In fact, it’s believed the small building was an old utility shed constructed by adding walls to a covered pavilion.


Volunteer Ruthmary Brewer sorts through donated clothing at the House By The Side Of The Road on Tuesday morning. The non-profit will have to move due to construction of an access road to the new county courthouse and expanded jail.

Lon Horwedel |

But for the occupants of that building, which has served for years as the home of the “House by the Side of the Road," it has been ground zero for giving clothing and other necessities to county residents who need it.

The organization has been told it needs to move off the County Service Center property because the county needs an access road for its construction project that includes expanding the county jail and creating a new 14A-1 District Court building.

“The county is doing so much reconstruction, they need this space and they are going to tear down this building,” said Frances Arnett, director of the House by the Side of the Road.

On July 23, the House by the Side of the Road plans to close its doors and move out, Arnett said. “At the moment, they don’t know where they’re going to move it to,” she said.

What really bothers Arnett and others involved in running the organization is that, when it first opened its doors, the county signed a covenant agreeing to provide housing for the House by the Side of the Road if it kept itself up and running on its own.

At the time, a growing number of mothers were having trouble providing clothing to their children and found they couldn’t get help from other organizations when they needed it. So they marched in the city and negotiated for a new kind of organization, which would have regular hours and would never sell the donations, Arnett said.

However, Arnett said, there just isn't space for it on county property now.

"My understanding of the covenant said the county said they could stay on the property for as long as it exists," said County Administrator Verna McDaniel.

Moving the organization has nothing to do with how the county values the work it has done, McDaniel said.

"The House By The Side of the Road has been with us for a long long long time. They have done a wonderful job, and they never presented any problems whatsoever," McDaniel said. "It's been a wonderful service for us."


The exterior of the House By The Side Of The Road is shown.

Lon Horwedel |

McDaniel said the county wants to honor its agreement to support the organization as best as it can. She assigned Dave Shirley, the county's operations and maintenance manager, to work with the organization to find it an alternative space and to help pay for the organization's move.

"It is my hope we can work something out," she said.

But to actually pay to house the organization off county property wouldn't appear fair to other non-profits throughout Washtenaw County, McDaniel said.

County Commissioner Kristin Judge said she's heard from many supporters and has been trying to help find a place for the organization.

It's unfortunate the county doesn't have the resources, but it is doing both the prudent and fair thing by trying to help the organization find a new home, Judge said. Technically, a board resolution can change the county's original agreement, she said.

"When it was done 40 years ago, it was a wonderful thing and it all worked out," Judge said. "Things are a lot different than they were 40 years ago and there are a lot more non-profits … It's a fabulous service and we want to keep it going in our community and maybe we can get more hands involved in helping out."

So far, Arnett said, suggested alternatives would require the House by the Side of the Road to move much farther away from its current location, which could make it more difficult for both recipients and volunteers from around the county to get there. 

It's tricky because the group needs to find a place it can afford that is centrally located, near a bus line and have open areas to store clothing.

Cathy Freeman, treasurer of the House by the Side of the Road's board of directors, said the change will require the organization to have a new model for keeping its door open and re-focus much of its efforts on the skill of fundraising.

With more than 6,000 people being served last year, there is a clear need in the community for this type of organization, she said. "That says to me the need is great," Freeman said. 

The House By The Side of the Road has been largely supported by churches throughout the county in the past and will hopefully be sustained by them through the move, Arnett said.

“Our plans are, we will move to a new location, hopefully near this area for the people who know us, and go about our business of helping people,” Arnett said. “We’ve had 40 years of association with the county, and that’s hard to break.”

Tina Reed covers health and the environment for You can reach her at, call her at 734-623-2535 or find her on Twitter @TreedinAA.


Joylynn Fox

Sat, Oct 16, 2010 : 1:10 p.m.

It is hard to believe that Washtenaw County can't find property for the House by the Side of the Road. The county has received many properties from the citizens. This charity could also pay the county a nominal fee and find someone to move the building also. The agreement is a written contract, is it not. The charity has upheld their part in it. It seems the only party violating the agreement is our County officials. Is anyone good for their word in this world anymore?


Tue, Jul 20, 2010 : 8:20 a.m.

What's the matter with the entrance off Hogback? Turn onto Hogback, turn right into the complex. No prob. Washtenaw at Carpenter is already one of the worst intersections in the city. For eastbound folk, they will have to turn left into the new driveway. How far will it be from the intersection? Not far, judging from the entrance to the church. It'll be interesting to see how this is handled. I think it'll be a nightmare.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 1:17 a.m.

I see it noted that much of their support comes from local churches; perhaps it's time to reach out to and shame a few more of them into participating. There is a lot of vacant commercial and light industrial space just east of there, some of it tucked away and considerably less expensive than retail with prime frontage, which seems ideal since the bulk of their clientele is through referrals and some may prefer a more discrete entrance. I wonder if they or someone at the county has contacted McKinley; I believe they've provided pro-bono relocation assistance to nonprofits in the past. I do agree with the county, though, that with dozens of nonprofits, many just as deserving, it would not be appropriate to pay rent for this one.

Life in Ypsi

Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 8:51 p.m.

This is so sad. I used HBSR in the early 90s when I was struggling and trying to go to college and working a low wage job. I have always appreciated that HBSR treats people with dignity and allows them to pick out their own items. Other places do not allow that, except Emmanuel Lutheran. I now donate to HBSR so I can give back the help once given to me. I really hope the county finds a building for them and it's rent free.


Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 3:26 p.m.

I have been a volunteer at The House by the Side of the Road for over six years and have been involved with various issues resulting from the forced move from the County Service Center. The House is unique in our community in its policy of providing free items that are essential to living an independent life. This includes clothing and household goods (everything from spoons to blankets). There also is a focus on children from newborn to young teens. What is available at the House comes from the donations of hundreds of local residents, many of whom clearly express their preference for choosing the House because it does not take any money from its clients for what they receive. The clients must reside in Washtenaw County and have a referral from a social service agency or a church in order to use the House and are limited to four visits a year. Detailed data about the number of clients, items of clothing and household goods have been maintained for over 20 years. In 2009, the House provided 48,000 clothing items, 21,500 household items to almost 6000 people. The loss of the House would be devastating to many individuals and families in Washtenaw County. What many people dont realize is that anyone can become homeless in a very short time: someone escaping an abusive relationship by seeking aide at SAFE house often has little more than the clothes they are wearing (and often has one or more young children by the hand). Your house may burn down. You may be evicted or foreclosed and lose all your possessions. The House is an important link in the chain of community resources that helps people keep their lives together or rebuild a life after a devastating event. Ms. McDaniels opinion that having the County support a site away from the Service Center would be seen as unfair by other community non-profits is paraphrased in Tinas article. I wonder if these other non-profits have felt slighted in the past by the House having space on County property and I wonder how many of them would cry foul if the County indeed helped us survive in a new place. The House was born at the Service Center in the late 1960s. A committee was formed from church representatives and two County Commissioners, one of whom was David Byrd, a visionary civil rights leader and insistent advocate for affordable housing. It was he who gave the House its name from a favorite poem His wife Letitia is a well known Ann Arborite who has been honored many times for her contributions to our community. The House has a long history with the County, it has been lauded twice in the past by the County Commissioners with Resolutions of Appreciation and I have heard no arguments that say the House has not been a very valuable resource. The volunteers at the House work very hard (we could use many more) and many have been doing this for decades. For me, after a 31 year career in academia and industry, being a House volunteer is the best job Ive ever had. It surprises me to read in Tinas article of all the efforts that are being made on behalf of the House by the County Administrator and a County Commissioner. To my knowledge, the efforts have been little more than words. And @WCinformed emphatically states that the House knew more than two years ago that a move away from the Service Center would be necessary. To my knowledge, Ms. McDaniel first informed some representatives from the House in February 2010 that the County would tear down the building on August 1, 2010 and she left the impression that the County would be responsible for locating a new space.


Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 2:14 p.m.

This sounds vaguely similar to what happened to Tios at their original spot on Huron near Fifth Ave., next to city hall. As I recall, the city bought out their landlord and then gave the restaurant a deadline to move which left them less than a year to secure a viable new location. The resulting public outcry was sufficient to give the city a mild public relations headache (at the time, a few city hall defenders even resorted to mocking Tios' cooking and prices). Eventually, as time on the Huron Ave. lease ran out, Salsarita's on Liberty St. shut its doors. McKinley, I think, then stepped in to bail out both Tios and the city by welcoming the exiled business into the vacated space — one already set up for use as a restaurant — on reasonable terms. With that past Tios experience in mind, county officials deserve considerable pressure from the local community to impose no deadline and to leave the House by the Side of the Road up and running until at least such time as the non-profit finds a very low-cost, alternate location that will work. This should be the absolute, bare minimum required of the county, assuming that the shoestring operation can actually be required to relocate, per the covenant. What makes this sadder is that the county wants to push aside a charitable service to make way for more jail beds. A true sign of our times. Can't they pick up the building and reassemble it elsewhere on the Hogback grounds? (Ernie Harwell, were he alive today, would potentially have made a good spokesperson for a cause like this, due to a certain on-air phrase he liked to use, as well as for his past activism to save a house by the side of Trumbull.)

Me Next

Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 1:34 p.m.

Free Recycling places like this do more than provide a place for individual giving & receiving, it actually stimulates Consumption in various Private businesses. Seems this House as been a functional member of Society. It takes nothing from taxpayers & saves taxpayers in the long run. I'd like to focus on the Failed Incarceration Policy. There is a way to enforce The US Constitution mandated Inclusion & MI Constitution mandated illusion of equal treatment. While hard working people are loosing their homes, government builds more crime factories. This is evidence of failed means to maintain a civil society. It would be functional to use empty structures for Family Rehab Community homes to provide the missing essential elements missing from Our past & current Public School System. It would not cost anymore using a sliding scale for self sustaining &/or all public funds pooled into the operation. The Family could volunteer to live in this Rehab School to save their child from The Crime Factory. They would be free to come & go but all living expenses would be under the Spending Power of the Block Supervisor. Whatever the missing element is the Individual Plan would meet that need. Instead of educating juveniles in harming society they learn basic State mandated 3 Rs & the blessings of Inclusion. They learn how to functionally compete in a Free Society. It is the foundation for returning our Free Society. Perhaps someone in the area will provide an empty structure in return for property tax exemption in order to help this area continue to recycle & support the area.


Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 10:46 a.m.

WCinformed - And what of the solemn promise? Disposable?


Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 10:30 a.m.

House By The Side of The Road is a place of hope and compassion for people like me... please don't take away a home that has been soo helpful to those who find themselves in need of temporary assistence. House has its own character that is embraced by it's clients- many whom are starting their lives over with nothing... this organization is just as important as the salvation army, st.vincent..etc... It fill's a need the other "larger" non-profits don't... including some emotional support that most people unless you have been "there" can not understand.


Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 9:41 a.m.

Agree that their service has been invaluable... Also realize that their service may be duplicative... Salvation Army, PTSO Thrift, Kiwanis, etc. Do they really need to be freestanding to do what they do? Or, is there an existing non profit they could merge or collaborate with, allowing them to actually EXPAND their service?


Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 9:38 a.m.

WCInformed, With the covenant agreement by the County, wasn't it then the County's responsibility to find House By The Side Of The Road a new place to be two years ago, when the County informed the organization that it needed their space?


Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 9:08 a.m.

It's not for a "dirt path", but for the new entrance to the jail/court/juvie off of Washtenaw Avenue once the old court is demolished in a few weeks. The entrance is sorely needed there. If you've ever had to try to get out onto Hogback Road in the afternoon, you'd agree. Also, those services that were co-located there, haven't been there for years. WIC is over in Ypsilanti and has been since the new juvenile detention was built. It irritates me that the article makes it seem as though this was just sprung on the organization. They knew at LEAST 2 years ago that other arrangements would need to be made.....


Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 8:44 a.m.

Tina. Is it possible that you may provide the readers with a copy of the covenant. That organization provides a much needed and valuable service and you would think the county would be a lot more sensitive to trying to keep it open. Where's Barb Bergman who always touts herself as being for the little people of this community. This is too valuable of a service to just dislocate for a temp road. Obviously, the county has other intentions for that space.


Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 8:35 a.m.

The only good thing about this misfortune is the publicity. While I have a faint memory of this organization, it is now something I will remember when it comes time to let some clothing go. Hopefully, others will also. Any chance this can stay somewhere on the property or at least nearby? The comments from June point out the importance of having this close to other county programs.

David Cahill

Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 8:25 a.m.

Could we please see the text of this covenant?


Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 7:50 a.m.

It is silly to destroy a productive asset for a temporary dirt path. There is an individual at the county who said, "Sure, put a road there." If that person now says, "Go around", they will. "the county signed a covenant agreeing to provide housing for the House by the Side of the Road if it kept itself up and running on its own." If litigation ensues, as it likely should, someone at the county will be very embarrassed at such a blunder. But, hey, it's the taxpayer who will pay the legal fees and awards, right? "Technically, a board resolution can change the county's original agreement, she said." An attorney believes otherwise...


Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 7:03 a.m.

I'm dismayed the County would close such a valuable Community Resource for such a trivial access road for the construction project? You mean a temporary access road is going to supplant a much needed Community Resource? How ridiculous! Can't they build the road around the building? This oraganization doesn't cost the County a DIME other than the donation of an old Out Building Storage Shed. They need to rethink their Access Road decision.

June Smedley

Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 7:01 a.m.

I used House by the Side of the Road for 20 years as I raised my four children. I clothed myself and my children, especially in winter coats, shoes, and boots. Today a few of the finds are still in use by myself. My oldest is 28 now and just graduated from Columbia Law School. I remember not having clothing for her, I was without family, and my caseworker gave me a referral to House by the side of the Road. I would get my WIC coupons at the service center and then stop at House by the Side of the Road afterward. Catching the bus home with bags of clothing and my WIC coupons, I would feel relieved that I had gotten what I needed for my family. The House by the Side of the Road used so little resources; the building is so small you wonder how the women get all the clothes ready. I do not recall that there is even a restroom in that building. Washtenaw County is absurd to think it can say there is no place for this resource. It just doesn't want to give it a place. House by the Side of the Road should have a decent lodging, not the whole in the wall its had for all these years.


Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 6:45 a.m.

How sad that the county cannot find alternatives to closing a valuable resource for people in need at a time like this. There has to be an alternative access that could be used for construction, maybe we should ask County Commissioner Jeff Irwin who is now running for representative?