Homeless Awareness Month
Homelessness may not be as readily visible in rural communities as it is in urban environments, but that doesn’t make it any less real or difficult. During the month of November, as we try to shed light on the subject, we have been sharing stories from a number of different perspectives. Below are three videos, each with a unique view of homelessness.
In this first video, our Housing & Community Resource Navigator, Julie Vitale sat down with a local business owner and landlord, Jeff Nelson and asked him about the difficulties, real and perceived, landlords may address when faced with the possibility of renting to formally or currently homeless renters.
People rarely become homeless overnight. In our second video, we talk to “Alex” and learn how he came as close as he would care to becoming homeless. He tells us about each step that led him closer and closer to being on the street, and how TrueNorth was able to give him a hand up.
Talking to young children about the issues surrounding homelessness can be a daunting task for parents. Our third video take a “novel” approach to this as Barbara Sims, owner of Storybook Village Bookstore in Pentwater reads the children’s book; “A Place to Stay – a Shelter Story”. The book is written by Erin Gunti, illustrated by Esteli Meza, and published and read with permission by Barefoot Books www.barefootbooks.com.
Sharon and Scottie share their housing journey
Sharon and Scottie had met once before, in passing, many years ago. Through a strange coincidence, they became reacquainted. Scottie had just moved into a new apartment when there was a knock on her door. She looked though the peephole to see two of her grandchildren. As she hadn’t even given her new address out to anyone yet, she was a bit dumfounded. Her grandchildren were equally dumfounded when she opened the door to greet them, as they expected their other grandmother to open the door. As it turns out, Scottie and Sharon share one grandchild, and Scottie had just moved into Sharon’s old apartment!
The coincidences didn’t stop there. Scottie had been referred to our Center for Nonprofit Housing (CNH) by MSHDA’s Key to Own program, which supports Section 8 housing clients transitioning from renters to homeowners. One of the requirements for that program is to attend nine separate Financial Literacy classes, followed by a Homebuyer Education program from CNH.
Shortly thereafter, Sharon was also referred to CNH for the same reasons. Both women completed the Financial Literacy and the Homebuyer Education classes. Sharon, in particular set a tight schedule for herself, going through the initial nine classes, in about 12 weeks. There were several other steps along the way, including proving her credit rating, in Sharon’s case, and improving hers, in Scottie’s.
After they both had finished all of that, they ran into each other again, and Scottie told Sharon about the Real Estate Agent she had been working with. Sharon worked with this agent, who was familiar with both Section 8 and the Key to Own program, and after seeing only two houses, Sharon found her dream home in White Cloud, within walking distance of her children and grandchildren.
Scottie’s search took a little longer, but she ended up finding a perfect house in Holton. Both women site the huge benefits of the knowledge they gained in both the Financial Literacy and Homebuyer Education classes, and how important it was having their CNH Housing Counselor walking alongside them through the entire process.
Empty Bowls slated for October 14th
This fall will mark the return of Empty Bowls, TrueNorth’s largest fundraising event for our Hunger Prevention Programs. For over 20 years, this event has been serving up delicious soups in an effort to increase access to healthy, nutritious food for those who might suffer from food insecurity.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, TrueNorth programs like the Food Pantry, Weekend PowerPacks and Feeding America West Michigan Mobile Food Pantries saw record numbers of our neighbors seeking food. “We heard from so many people who lost a job in a restaurant or factory and suddenly had to provide three meals a day for their kids with no time to plan,” said Mike Voyt, who manages Hunger Prevention programs at TrueNorth. The Empty Bowls event typically supplies $20,000 to help fund these programs.
Just in the same manner in which the Food Pantry is operating, Empty Bowls 2021 will be a drive-thru style event. Attendees will select from a variety of soup offerings, courtesy of Ridge Catering, to be re-heated at their convenience. In addition to heartwarming soup, each attendee will receive bread, a cookie and an empty, hand-painted bowl as a reminder of all the empty bowls in and around Newaygo County.
If you are unable to attend the event in-person, please consider a much-needed donation to support the event.
Learn more about September happenings.
Sara’s case worker at Department of Human Services (DHS) referred her to TrueNorth, and she started out being assisted through our PASS Utility Program, and later through our emPower Heat and Energy Assistance Program. The TrueNorth Case Worker helping her was able to print hard copies of applications that she was unable to access online, and they developed a great relationship. Sara was also able to catch up on overdue property taxes with help from our Center for Nonprofit Housing’s Step Forward program, equip her kids with all the back-to-school supplies they needed through our Tools for School program, and celebrate a traditional Christmas with her children having “presents under the tree” through our Children’s Christmas program—demonstrating TrueNorth’s ability to assist clients with wrap-around services.
Because sometimes, life throws you more than one curve, TrueNorth works to build self-sufficiency across our programs and services. Rather than simply “hand out” support, our focus through education and skilled support is to encourage positive choices and a proactive attitude.
“It’s even impacted my children—they want to donate extra food from our garden to your Food Pantry to sort of give back,” said Sara. “I really appreciate TrueNorth being there to help people like me in my situation… I don’t know what I would have done.”
You can see Sara tell her story in her own words by viewing the video below.
When her mother, Alicia was referred to our Parent Education Program, one of her biggest concerns was that Alyssa is also a bit of an escape artist—prone to sneaking out of the house, unattended, to visit her grandmother who lives a few blocks away. Alyssa had been starting to learn sign language at school, but unfortunately the public school she attends discontinued the program, so Alicia was also struggling to communicate with her daughter. After some discussion with Patti, her Parent Ed Coach, they came up with a novel solution to both of these issues. An iPad Mini, loaded with a “touch to talk” program to help her communicate and a GPS so mom could track her if and when she snuck out of the house again.
The only problem with this plan was that there wasn’t any money in the program budget for an iPad Mini, much less the needed software to go with it—expenses totaling over $550. Fortunately, Patti reached out to her fellow TrueNorth staff members and through their generosity and other caring individuals, was able to collect enough money from donations to purchase the iPad, the touch-to-talk software, and an “Otterbox” to keep it safe in the event Alissa accidentally drops it.
Now, Alyssa simply touches the screen of her iPad, which speaks for her to help communicate with others, and since she always has it with her, Alicia can use the GPS tracking feature to locate her daughter whenever she decides to venture out on her own. This is a great example of how technology and TrueNorth’s Parent Education Program came together to make a lasting, positive difference in the lives of one little girl, her mother, and her family… because we believe that all kids should have the opportunity to grow into their best self.
You can see for yourself the positive impact the iPad has made on Alyssa and her family—made possible through the TrueNorth Parent Education Program—by viewing the video below.
Abrielle was just five years old in the summer of 2014. Her mother Veronica, who works in TrueNorth’s Center for Nonprofit Housing, was looking for potential daycare options when aco-worker suggested Camp Newaygo’s co-ed day camps. TrueNorth owns and operates Camp Newaygo, making Veronica eligible for the discounted “local resident” rate and her decision was made.
Abrielle was very excited, but her mom was a little nervous as this would be the first time she had spent any length of time away from family, other than for school. There were eight weeks of day camp, each with separate themes: What’s Cookin’, Circus Camp, Adventures in Space, Medieval Kingdom, Arts Around Us, Superhero Training, Mad Science (her favorite), and Wild About Animals. Additionally, each week offered an optional overnight from Thursday to Friday. As the summer went on and Abrielle became more and more independent, she asked if she could take part in the overnights, which would be her first time ever spending a night away from her parents. They agreed and she handled it like a pro, spending three nights at Camp, and one at John Ball Zoo during the Wild About Animals week.
Over the course of the summer, Veronica noticed discernable changes in her daughter, watching her grow up before her eyes. Because Camp Newaygo believes all girls should have a safe place to help them grow into their best self, they offered Abrielle the opportunity to find and build confidence within. She learned to love archery and canoeing, became a better swimmer, and learned to build a campfire. Veronica was so impressed with her daughter’s tech-free summer camp experience, she wrote this note to the Camp Newaygo staff:
“This summer was life changing for Abrielle. With your rock star staff, she was stretched, challenged, encouraged, and believed in. She has truly transformed before my eyes into a strong, independent girl who found an inner voice and spirit. She truly became her best self. Thank you!”
Abrielle’s story is echoed by countless girls, year after year, who find out what they’re made of and who they really are at Camp Newaygo.