Detroit homeless task force in works

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The City Council on Tuesday will take up a resolution to create the legislative body’s first known task force to combat homelessness.

The effort, spearheaded by City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield, involves a partnership between the council, the Duggan administration, homeless Detroiters and nearly a dozen area service agencies.

Sheffield said the task force will provide the council with a voice and bring all city stakeholders to the table to develop goals and strategies to address homelessness.

“We’re hoping to have a voice from every leading agency here in the city,” Sheffield said. “We want to set a tone ... that other cities nationally can look at.”

Sheffield says the task force will likely meet monthly and work not only to establish an effective long-term plan to end homelessness in Detroit, but also to evaluate funding and programming.

The task force, Sheffield said, will also pursue a pilot project to provide transitional housing and job programs.

The “Housing First Strategy” has been used nationally in cities including New York, New Orleans and Washington, D.C., to move homeless individuals with substance abuse or mental health issues off of the streets and into permanent housing.

Sheffield’s push for a renewed focus on homelessness comes after a group of individuals set up a so-called “tent city” on Jefferson earlier this year and spent months refusing to take refuge in city shelters.

The group has since relocated with the assistance of the city and several community organizations.

The city’s administration is supportive of Sheffield’s plans, and homelessness has always been a top priority of the mayor, said Alexis Wiley, Mike Duggan’s chief of staff.

“It’s a great thing that Councilwoman Sheffield wants to get involved in this issue and is really taking a strong leadership role,” she said. “It is critical and will require all of us to come together to build a truly holistic strategy that addresses this on every single level, because that’s what’s going to help us end homelessness.”

Arthur Jemison, director of the city’s Housing and Revitalization Department, joined the administration in September and is already working toward solutions for the chronically homeless and homeless veterans. He’s hopeful that Sheffield’s initiative will elevate the conversation.

“Having everybody on the same page means we can hopefully make some big strides in the next few years,” he said.

The task force intends to hold its first meeting on Feb. 25.