Leading the Dialogue on Homelessness

United Way has been working to help our community tackle an issue that’s been highly visible recently: homelessness.

The visibility comes from a protest in Kalamazoo. Homeless individuals and advocates camped in a city park to promote awareness and action. That protest, which began Aug. 19, ended on Sept. 19 when police cleared the park.

But the issue hasn’t gone away. In fact, the protest prompted a lot of discussion and action between those two dates—and United Way remains deeply involved in that work.

“City officials, service providers and advocates came together to discuss immediate and long-term action steps to help the homeless,” said Matt Lynn, Vice President of Community Impact for United Way BCKR.

“United Way facilitated that discussion, making sure we had the right partners in the room to develop those action steps,” Lynn added.

Specifically, United Way has been involved in these ways:

  • Facilitating dialogue between representatives of the homeless, the City of Kalamazoo and community partners aimed at meeting immediate and long-term needs.
  • Coordinating service providers to connect directly with the homeless and meet immediate needs as well as link them to programs to help them achieve self-sufficiency.

In addition, United Way is helping to lead the next step of assembling and coordinating workgroups to address key elements of homelessness, including basic needs, housing, and mental, emotional and physical health.

United Way staff directly involved include Lynn, President and CEO Chris Sargent, and Community Impact Associate Robert Elchert.

The participating organizations, known as the Kalamazoo Homeless Partners Group, are the City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, Housing Resources, Inc., Ministry with Community, Kalamazoo Gospel Mission, Local Investment Services Corporation (LISC), Kalamazoo Community Mental Health, Kalamazoo County Department of Health and Human Services, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services, Gryphon Place, Fair Housing Center, ISAAC, Aviator Strategies, Kalamazoo Community Foundation, and United Way BCKR.

Homelessness is more than a single-community issue; in fact, more than 6,000 people across our region experienced some degree of homelessness in 2017. About one-third of them were children.

The work continues, Lynn said. Like homelessness itself, the issues raised are complex. Some, such as making more low-income housing available, will take time to emerge. But Lynn believes there’s a shared commitment and vision for moving forward.

“Gathering the resources, ideas and partners around a community need like this is United Way’s sweet spot,” Lynn said. “That’s the value we bring to solving the biggest issues impacting people’s lives.”

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What’s it like to serve the homeless? Check out this recent guest blog and discover ways that you can make a difference.