NEMCSA Homeless Response Team Wins Statewide Honor | News, Sports, Jobs

News Photo by Julie Riddle From left to right, Ashley Gagnon, Victoria Purvis, Ashley Smart, Simone Latuszek and Jaime Gabriel, members of the Homeless Response Team at the Northern Community Services Agency- eastern Michigan, go silly with supplies donated to the agency’s Kindness Closet on Thursday.

ALPENA – Tackling homelessness in northeast Michigan takes determination, empathy and colleagues as close as family, say advocates recently tapped for a nationwide homelessness award ‘State.

The Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness recently selected the Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency’s Homeless Response Team, centered in Alpena, as the 2022 Homelessness Awareness Champions.

This is the first time the organization has included a Champions of Awareness award in its annual recognition of people who fight on behalf of homeless people.

Coalition awards are usually given to individuals, but, in the case of NEMCSA’s homelessness response team, recognizing the whole team was a natural fit, said Victoria. Purvis, Director of Community Homelessness and Prevention Programs Division for NEMCSA.

The team gathered around a table at Alpena NEMCSA headquarters on Thursday.

Over sack lunches, they talked about the people they help every day from their northern Michigan stations.

They eagerly informed their colleagues of a man who had found a job, a woman they had helped find a home, another who had called to thank a member of the found him a home two years ago.

“Aaaaw,” the team said in unison.

One of the smallest teams running the state’s largest community action agency, the team must operate like a family, Purvis said.

Messages and calls fly between workers all day, keeping tabs on everyone’s efforts from Alpena to Cheboygan to Grayling to Tawas City.

They celebrate each other’s birthdays and fuss over the holidays and support each other, providing the support needed to do work that takes a heavy emotional toll, the group said.

The people they help face sometimes impossible obstacles, they explain.

They can’t find a job because if they do, they’ll lose their benefits but won’t earn enough to make ends meet.

They have jobs and enough money to pay rent, but they can’t find vacant accommodation.

They can’t find a rental that allows pets, and their dog is their lifeline.

Sometimes all the homeless response team members can do is sit with these struggling people and cry, listen to their pain without being able to fix it, the team said, speaking around the table.

Their work is an ongoing fight to find landlords willing to consider joining a voucher program that helps house the homeless.

It’s walking alongside people as they move into a new home, connecting them to the supplies they need to restart, and teaching them how to cook, manage their money, prevent homelessness from happening again.

Their work, the team said, is becoming the support system that many homeless people lack.

For that, to be strong enough for the task, they have to be a family themselves, the team said.

With global warming, the team will soon encounter more homeless people, they know.

“Simone is about to get really busy,” Purvis said of Street Outreach coordinator Simone Latuszek, the team’s go-to person for connecting one-on-one with people living in garages. , motorhomes and other places unsuitable for human habitation.

New to the team, Latuszek said she had never seen such communication and unity within a team at a community action agency.

Some team members struggle to get people to break through the barriers that prevent them from entering their homes. Others are trying to find places where these people could live, while still others are teaching high school students about budgeting, sorting out government money, or making sure the community knows that homelessness in northeast Michigan is not like roaming in a big city.

An old effort with a new name, a kindness closet located in the Alpena Public Schools building contains community-donated items that team members had to store for years in their garages and closets.

Soon that closet will be full, and the community that has generously supported NEMCSA’s efforts for years will continue to give more, Purvis said.

In the meantime, the team will continue to try to find homes, provide a shoulder to cry on and an arm to lean on, and continue to support each other and family.

The job is tough, Purvis said.

“But they want to be here. They love what they do. They appreciate it. I think,” she added, to laughter from the group. “We are just one unit. Solid.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.

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