Northwest Michigan Supportive Housing
The thought of being homeless with underlying health conditions; it is frightening in a way you can’t imagine.” Ed explains, sitting on the porch outside of his apartment. Ed and his family always knew that something was not right with his health from a young age. After several broken bones and a broken neck from seemingly minor falls, Ed was diagnosed at age 12 with osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder that causes bones to break easily and often from little or no apparent cause. “I’ve broken my neck twice in my life (among many other bones) but I’m still walking. I feel so blessed.” Ed reflects.
This condition made it extremely difficult for Ed, a native of Northern Michigan, to work in certain fields. He worked in the TV production business for years, and was able to maintain his health while working at a job he truly loved. Yet in 2008 he was laid off as the digital market fell.
Shortly after this job loss, a major depressive episode put him in the hospital. Consequently he received an eviction notice. “The feeling of helplessness… I had no housing, no money for housing, and I was unable to find a job that would accommodate my physical and mental health needs,” Ed states. “You know you’re pretty bad off when toilet paper becomes a luxury expense. It makes you feel subhuman.”
“You know you’re pretty bad off when toilet paper becomes a luxury expense. It makes you feel subhuman.”
With the help of Community Mental Health and his local church, Ed found his way to Northwest Michigan Supportive Housing. Currently Ed lives in a studio apartment at the Grand Traverse Commons, “My mental and physical health issues will not go away- I will always struggle with depression and osteogenesis imperfecta, but I no longer have to balance those issues with the threat of homelessness.”
An integral part of the NMSH program is providing the support services each client needs to ensure community integration. Ed is a prime example of the positive impacts those services can have on NMSH clients.
Ed volunteers for the overnight shift at Safe Harbor for his church, “Most of the other volunteers work during the day, so I take the overnight shift. It’s my way of doing what I can.” He also volunteers for shifts at HelpLink, “I would not have had that much contact with people had it not been for NMSH. I wouldn’t have had these opportunities, or taken advantage of them.”
In the future, Ed would like to go back to school. He has a passion for working with veterans diagnosed with PTSD, and deeply understands the isolation they face. Stories like these, of heartache, struggle and ultimately overcoming barriers, are so common with clients in NMSH’s program. Yet it is stories like these that prove the worth and value of NMSH and the services they provide. “You cannot progress until you get a stable living environment. It’s like in football; you can’t run the ball before you catch it. I am so grateful for this program… It allowed me to get my life back.” Ed finishes, as he looks up with tears of gratitude in his eyes.
Over coffee Northwest Michigan Supportive Housing’s tenant, Bree, shared her transformation story from homelessness to housing with NMSH and the simple truth that it was housing that gave her the hope she needed to pursue her dreams and make a better life for herself. The loss of her long-term employment, a 5-day hospitalization, and repossession of her properties, left Bree homeless. What NMSH provided for her allowed her to regain stability and pull herself out of homelessness and into a safe, clean and productive environment.
For eight months Bree lived out of her small car, having no place to call home. On many cold nights, Bree would sleep in two sleeping bags, a winter coat and long johns and wait for the warm public buildings to open up in the morning. On cold evenings she found herself sitting in a McDonald’s for the sole purpose of escaping the cold. Little things like finding bathroom and showers- basic needs that many take for granted, were difficult and became huge barriers for Bree’s progression out of homelessness.
Not only that, but a constant fear for her safety while living on the streets as a woman was a setback that had serious psychological effects.
“It was so hard to get back to normal, but NMSH was able to help me regain stability”
It was organizations like NMSH that worked to assist her and make sure her needs were met. Bree was able to receive the help and services she needed to get back on her feet and obtain affordable, permanent housing. She discovered that being homeless (even for a brief period of time) made it difficult to acquire the basic necessities that those with housing require. Bree added, “it was so hard to get back to normal, but NMSH was able to help me regain stability.”
By admitting her into its permanent supportive housing program, NMSH provided her safety and mental wellness by ensuring she had a safe place to live, thus allowing her to focus on her personal and medical needs while working toward becoming a productive member of the community.
Today, Bree is stably housed and working on owning and operating a cherry stand. She is busy experimenting in her kitchen to find jam and jelly products to sell, and wishes to team up with local farmers to offer their products. With gratitude and a renewed understanding, Bree hopes to create employment for others who have suffered disabilities and set backs in their lives, “I am at a point where I can help myself, and hopefully help other people,” Bree shared. Transformations like Bree’s are not uncommon for individuals and families in NMSH housing, but each one is a victory and a pleasure.
Imagine struggling with addiction, raising a baby, and maintaining a job - all without a place to call home. Autumn, a former Kalkaska resident, is all too familiar with this struggle. In 2007, Autumn decided it was time to better her life- if not for herself, than for her 18-month-old daughter. That fall, Autumn entered a rehabilitation center with the support of her father, who cared for her daughter while she in treatment. Once clean, she was ready to start over- but how? “That’s the hard thing, even if your credit isn’t destroyed, and you don’t have a bad renting history, you are still destitute,” Autumn reflects. With her daughter’s father out of the picture, Autumn was left to care for and support her daughter alone, all while maintaining sobriety. Twice she was forced to sleep in her car, with her daughter in the care of relatives.
Autumn and her daughter eventually entered the Women’s Resource Center shelter. She recalls their first night spent in the shelter was Christmas Eve; a time usually spent with family and friends amid the comforts of home. Despite spending the holidays at the shelter, Autumn kept her head up and tried to make the best of their situation. Eventually she and her daughter were admitted into Sarah’s House, a transitional housing situation for shelter residents. She secured a job, working in the Women’s Resource Center thrift shop in exchange for rent. Sarah’s House allowed Autumn to finally breathe a sigh of relief, as she was able to focus on maintaining a job instead of securing housing. But even though things were improving, Sarah’s House was not a permanent living situation.
In 2010, Autumn was referred to Northwest Michigan Supportive Housing (NMSH) and found a permanent home, where she still lives today. “It sounds silly, but my daughter and I walked around in our underwear for a week when we first moved in. It was the first time we were ever able to do that- we finally had our own home,” Autumn fondly remembers. In addition to a home, NMSH was able to provide the support and stability for Autumn to focus on her sobriety and provide for her daughter. “As things got more stable, it got easier [to stay clean]. I didn’t want to use, I didn’t want to be that. How do I have the right to spend even $5 on drugs?”
Autumn also came to NMSH with a large debt from Consumers Energy. Because of this, NMSH subsidized her rental payments so she could work to pay off the debt she had incurred. These supportive services are crucial to the success of each client within the program.Today, that debt has been paid off, and Autumn is working as a caregiver to persons with special needs. “Once I was in the program, I finally felt like I was taking care of my family and that enabled me to take care of myself,” Autumn adds.
“Once I was in the program, I finally felt like I was taking care of my family and that enabled me to take care of myself”
Autumn’s story is not uncommon among the tenants in NMSH’s program. By providing Autumn and her daughter with a safe, stable and permanent home, NMSH was able to begin working with Autumn to address the issues that caused her homelessness in the first place. NMSH provides permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals and their families struggling with a substance abuse issue or mental health need in the five county region of Northwest Michigan. In addition to housing, NMSH provides supportive services, such as clinical psychological services, in an effort to increase the likelihood of successful independent living.