Community Health Corps expanding efforts to aid low-income Detroiters

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Pregnant and scared, Danika Pringle said she wrote to the mayor of Detroit last winter asking for help with finding housing after exhausting every option she had. 

Two weeks later, she got a call from the city that took her from homeless to a motel while workers from the city's Community Health Corps built her case for emergency placement. 

She got the keys to a low-income apartment on the city's east side in March, a few weeks before her daughter, Dariah, was born.

"Having this place is very instrumental to helping me get back on my feet and I hope to move on," Pringle, 33, told The Detroit News. 

Danika Pringle with her infant daughter Dariah at their Detroit apartment on Thursday, November 18, 2021. Pringle was seeking housing before giving birth to her child. The health corps gifted Pringle a house and Humble Design volunteered to furnish and decorate it, including the baby's nursery.

Pringle is among 2,871 Detroiters who have been helped through the Community Health Corps program since its launch by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in August 2020. The initiative seeks to connect the city's most impoverished residents to resources to keep them housed, working, and current on utility and water bills. 

The Community Health Corps sends health care workers and peer counselors door-to-door to families in need and was initially funded with $3.5 million in federal coronavirus relief dollars. It led off last year with a targeted group of 160 families identified by Detroit's housing and water departments. 

In the next three years, the program aims to help more than 14,000 residents, said Gregory Anderson, the program's deputy director of administration.

Clients in the program fall into three categories of need and to qualify, applicants just need to be Detroiters, noted David Bowser, deputy director of Community Health Corps.

There are wrap-around services for food insecurity and other non-housing needs; emergency service cases that don't have any utilities; and "code blue programs" for individuals like Pringle, who are housing insecure or displaced based on domestic violence, eviction, building fires, or landlord vacancies, Bowser said. 

The Community Health Corps has four case managers on staff handling about 50 cases apiece.

"Our caseloads at this point are right over 200, so we're taking referrals with priority escalation and we're hoping to expand to address the more Detroiters that are in need," Bowser said. "Housing needs are indicated in 60% of the intakes that we complete."

Detroit City Council in its final formal session last Tuesday approved a plan to allocate $15 million in American Rescue Plan funds to the Community Health Corps over the next three years. Bowser said the funding will enable the program to add two case management workgroups which will increase wrap-around services and housing case management.

The program is funded through federal COVID-19 relief dollars, the Detroit Health Department, and Housing and Urban Development. 

Of the overall intakes, 1,139 clients have indicated a housing need, but not always a relocation, officials said. 

"We try to deal with the root causes as well as the symptoms that individuals are calling in about," Bowser said. "We're finding that the housing issues are related to employment, they're related to food insecurity and inability to get transportation."

District 2 Councilman Roy McCalister Jr. said during last week's council session that he was initially against the program, but "they have proved me wrong in a good way."

When city departments become aware of a family in need, they are referred to the Community Health Corps, Bowser said. Residents also can get connected through community-based aid groups or reach out to their city councilperson or neighborhood district manager about a referral to the program. 

"We want to make sure people know there are neighborhood resources available to them and we know that there's a knowledge gap there," he said. 

Pringle told The News that she was unaware of the program in the summer of 2020 when she began writing to the city's housing commission, subsidized housing complexes, and area nonprofits for help. Eventually, in December, she wrote a letter directly to Duggan, she said. 

Pringle said she worked at a trucking company and had suffered two miscarriages before she became homeless in April 2020.

Before the pandemic hit, she said, she had financial difficulties, filed for bankruptcy, and lost her apartment.

"I started off kind of living with family and friends sleeping here and there trying to figure out what I was going to do," she said. "Then, when I found out I was pregnant, I didn't return to work because I wanted to hold on to everything I could to maintain a safe, viable pregnancy, but I had to get back on track."

Pringle said she's still embarrassed that she was in need of help after leaving a domestic violence situation and all of her belongings.

After getting in touch with the city, Pringle, then six or seven months pregnant, was bumped to the top of the five-year waitlist for housing placement. 

"I'll never forget picking up the phone on Jan. 29 and two months later, I was moving into a home," she said. 

The Community Health Corps not only gifted Pringle the two-story apartment unit, but it contracted with Humble Design in Detroit to furnish and decorate it, including the baby's nursery. Pringle said she's also looking forward to starting a new job on Dec. 1, utilizing her biology degree.

"They have helped me beyond the home," she said of the program. "They transferred me to a different sector that helped me secure a job and got me stable in my life. A lot positive has come out of it."

The program also has brought a second chance for Detroiter Latasha Flake and her three young children.

Last fall, Flake's family also was homeless and displaced. That November, she was referred to the Community Health Corps by the motel where she'd been working and living. 

A month later, she said, the program paid for temporary housing costs until she could move into transitional housing and covered the cost of clothes, transportation and food.

Flake said before she was homeless she'd been in an abusive relationship and in the summer of 2020, she and her children moved into a motel for six months. She was placed on the city's emergency housing waitlist and into a low-income home in northwest Detroit on April 1. Flake said she's also found work at the school her youngest son attends. 

"Last year, we celebrated the holidays in the motel because I didn't have anywhere else to go and cook," said Flake, 47, adding she's excited to cook and eat with her children this holiday season "in our home," which also was furnished in August by Humble Design.

"With me and my children being homeless, I didn't have any furniture, I didn't really have anything," she said. "I was able to get a house full of furniture and that made me and my children very proud to have something to come home to."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_