The state's economy may finally be improving. One sign of that rising tide: a reduced rate of homelessness overall in the state. But, before we get complacent, we should remember that the numbers of homeless people are still rising for some regions.
The Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness reported that the state as a whole saw the number of homeless people in Michigan drop by 6 percent from 2010 to 2011. We hope, and expect, that number to improve from 2011 to 2012, too.
Nonetheless, the group's statistics showed there is still plenty of cause for concern. While homelessness among families in our region dropped, the number of single homeless people went slightly higher in the Upper Peninsula from 1,221 to 1,385 between 2010 and 2011, despite a 10.4 percent overall decline in homelessness.
We can credit that reduction to cooperation among a myriad of volunteers, faith-based groups, government agencies and nonprofits working to solve housing problems around the peninsula and the state.
Yet, despite these statistical successes, people working on the front lines of the battle against homelessness will tell you the fight is far from over.
Demand for local services like the Room at the Inn program, which provides a homeless shelter run by a rotating cast of local churches, continues to increase. Regionally, the economic downturn, unemployment, low wages and foreclosures have hit people hard - and continue to fuel homelessness despite a slow economic recovery.
And while volunteer and nonprofit groups can accomplish a lot, we don't believe they can be the primary solution to the problem. Without steady sources of funding - both state and federal - these groups will have a difficult time combating homelessness over the long term.
According to Eric Hufnagel, executive director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, federal government funding to provide public services for homelessness have dried up.
The coalition and other agencies are calling on the federal government to look more closely at the problem of homelessness.
"There are some state funds, private foundations and other sources available but that is tenuous fare compared to federal funds," Hufnagel said.
People can lose their homes for a variety of reasons besides financial trouble - drug problems, health crises, child development problems, mental health issues - a spectrum of issues that requires responses from a wide range of social services.
Local groups will always have a key role to play, but homelessness needs to be addressed as a national problem, on a national level, with federal money.