You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 1:40 p.m.

Washtenaw County taking census of homeless as part of nationwide count

By Ryan J. Stanton

Washtenaw County is joining more than 3,000 communities across the United States this month in participating in a national effort to measure the scale of homelessness.

Julie Steiner, executive director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, said the community's homeless "point-in-time" count will take place Tuesday, Jan. 29.


In this photo from October, homeless people camp outside the First United Methodist Church, 120 S. State St., in Ann Arbor. After the eviction of Camp Take Notice from its last location, the church said it noticed more people sleeping on the church's grounds.

Daniel Brenner | file photo

The one-day count reveals a snapshot of the number of homeless people in the shelters and on the streets. It also provides local planners with data they need to understand the characteristics of people who are homeless, including how they got there, so they can develop a thoughtful response.

"This is an incredibly important day for our community," Steiner said. "Once every two years, we stop most of the business as usual to try to get a more accurate handle on who is experiencing homelessness in our area. The point-in-time count gives us the opportunity to look at what is happening at a global level and compare it to our efforts to assist those experiencing homelessness."

This year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has requested that special attention be given to unaccompanied youths under the age of 18. As a result, the WHA is working more closely with Ozone House, the community's premier organization for runaway and homeless youths. The agency will be assisting with peer-led street outreach efforts.

"It's hard to believe that young people in our county are homeless, but we know they are," said Colleen O'Brien, Ozone House's youth development director.

During Tuesday's count, teams of people, coordinated by the Washtenaw County Project Outreach Team (PORT) and the WHA, will start the day at 7:30 a.m. at the St. Andrews breakfast program and then fan out around the county to various locations to interview people.

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.

John Stacy, coordinator for PORT, said his staff works with people living on the street every day of the year.

"We appreciate this effort to ensure that we compile a good base of information about who is out there so that we can also focus our efforts and to bring attention to their needs," he said.

Other agencies providing staff to assist with the outreach effort include the Shelter Association, Michigan Ability Partners, Home of New Vision, the Homeless Veterans Program of the VA Medical Center, the Ann Arbor Police Department and the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office.

All shelter programs, transitional housing programs and Housing Access for Washtenaw County (the single point of entry for housing crises in the county), will be completing surveys with their participants, and the results will be include in a report expected to be released in April.

Steiner said the last count in 2011 identified 714 individuals who were living in a shelter or place not meant for human habitation; 160 of those were children and 15 were unaccompanied youth.

"For a community like Washtenaw County, we take this as an alarm to action," she said. "Since that time, we have developed a single point of access for people with a housing crisis and focused our resources more towards homelessness prevention and rapidly re-housing those who become homeless. I hope in 2013 we see our numbers decrease."


Katie Doyle

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 10:03 p.m.

Thank you for this important story, Ryan. This Point In Time count is a critical way to help us all understand the scope of homelessness, but as many have said, it will only tell part of the story. Youth who are homeless--or at risk of being homeless--are "hidden" from view. Though technically many homeless youth have a roof over their heads, more often than not they are living in dangerous situations and have no idea from moment to moment where their next meal will come from, or whether they will find a safe place to sleep. We many not locate them in a Point In Time count on January 29th, so we urge community members to make sure all youth know how to get in touch with Ozone House in order to find safety and support. We are available 24/7: 734.662.2222.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 4:48 p.m.

I actually think churches would make great homeless shelters across the country and here in Ann Arbor. When you think about the amount of heated space that is idle most of the time (except Sunday's) it make perfect sense. Who will be the first congregation to agree and begin to practice what is preached? This would hold true for Synagogues as well as Mosques.

Jennifer Lott

Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 2:56 p.m.

This is already happening. It's called the rotating shelter. About 16 churches participate in taking in a group of 25 homeless men for a week at a time.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 11:13 a.m.

I saw that picture of the church and was reminded of something that we saw a homeless had. If they are homeless then how can afford a dell computer lap top? I did see one with one and am appalled that if our government handouts can afford them one of these? Then they can afford a suitable place to live. Sorry but no more free handouts from me. Plus every time we do go to that church? They look at you like you are going to give them something. Time to get a job if you can afford a lap top computer..


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 6:50 a.m.

I would like to see the "Homeless Vets" (myth???) once-and-for-all ID'ed. Then I would like to see Washtenaw County government, that levies an "Indigent Veterans Millage" on Taxpayers, Do Something About It!


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 2:33 p.m.

There is NO MYTH when it comes to Homeless Vets!!! Many of the homeless are Vietnam vets who will not go to the VA for help as they are scared of being abused by society and the government as they were when they came home back in the 70's. Would you REALLY trust a government or society that spit on you and turned thier back on you after you watched so many friends give life and limb for this country?

Dog Guy

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 11:29 p.m.

If I call in sick next Tuesday and display appropriate attire and hygiene, where will pranksters meet to boost the count and get Ann Arbor on another top-ten list?

Sheri Wander

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 8:59 p.m.

It is important that the community is doing this, and I am appreciative of the work of Julie Steiner, John Stacy and the rest of the folks involved. Many thanks to those making the efforts to do this work! That said, as a larger community, it will do us well to remember that any numbers obtained from this are going to be inaccurate and falsely low. Not only is the count done in the winter at a time when people find empathetic folks willing to allow someone to sleep on couch etc. but also as there are many reasons for individuals who are currently homeless to have concerns and fears that stop them from wanting to interact with government agencies or those perceived to be in authority positions. A few examples: * For those in the country undocumented or those with past experience with the criminal justice system interactions with those in authority can be perceived as dangerous or problematic and can in fact have dangers and problematic consequences consequences. * Mental health issues such as anxiety etc. can cause or add to feelings of distrust * For those who have left an abusive situation being "found " can have very negative consequences. * in a political environment where there is such stigma attached to "homelessness" the fear of being "outed" as homeless to a boss, coworkers etc. can stop people from coming forward. Communities where men and women experiencing homelessness have come together to support one another could make this process much easier. Not only be having a physical space where those doing the counting could connect with individuals experiencing homelessness, but also by *providing a trusted community where individuals could support one another through their fears, assess which are real dangers and which are perceived dangers and to see the benefits in the count. How sad that Camp Take Notice, the tent city that could have provided this space was evicted and dispersed.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 4:43 p.m.

Undocumented? You must have meant illegally.

Caleb G Poirier

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 8:45 p.m.

Most social work professionals are already aware of this, but the rest of the public need to hear this: 1) This count is done in the middle of winter. The numbers obtained will of course reflect a smaller population than can be found during the rest of the year in our town. This is because many homeless people are able to stay on the couches of friends during the coldest weather. It is very challenging to complete census of the true homeless population when so many have ducked indoors and cannot be found in the usual locations. 2) A portion of the homeless population is transient. Those that travel are more likely to be present in the northern latitudes during the summer months. In other words, some of Ann Arbor's homeless are not even in town and could never be counted this time of year no matter how good the detective skills of the census takers. 3) A large percentage of the homeless are wary and distrustful of being recognized as such. Anxiety, schizophreniform disorders and bad experiences with authority often predispose the homeless to avoid interaction with governmental representatives. Certainly the local social workers and allied professionals are terrific at what they do; nevertheless this dynamic further decreases the discover-ability of some homeless individuals. 4) Over the last year the city and state have separately taken actions to decimate the self-created communities of the homeless in Washtenaw County. Those actions have driven the homeless deeper into the woods and into smaller, more difficult to locate groups. Certainly, those homeless from CTN that have been housed for one year will not be included in this count and yet many of them will unfortunately return to homelessness at the end of their lease. That said, this census is important and the people who do it are good people. However, let the public be aware that results will be seriously skewed toward under-representing the problem here in Washtenaw County.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 11:09 a.m.

Another reason to reopen the mental hospitals and place the homeless there. They are mentally unstable and wander because they have no where to go because even their families don't want to deal with them. Another Newtown disaster waiting to happen. When we start realizing this, then we can reopen these hospitals and no more homeless. This also includes free handouts from the governments. There are jobs, they just don't want to do them because they think it is beneath them. Lets stop coddling them and put them to work.

An Arborigine

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 8:27 p.m.

This sounds strangely like a DNR-administered program where the homeless are tagged in a catch and release program so their migratory habits can be tracked.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 2:14 a.m.

Best post of the day!:)

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 8:01 p.m.

FYI - Steiner tells me they count homeless people who are "sheltered" (in shelters and transitional housing programs) annually, but they do a bi-annual street count.


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 4:24 p.m.

Now WHY in the world are there "down" votes to DBH's simply informative post? Information envy?


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

"Bi-annual." Is that every other year (in which case "biennial" would be clearer) or every 6 months (in which case "semi-annual" would be clearer) or twice a year but not at regular 6-month intervals (in which case "twice a year" would be clearer)?