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Carson, Upton discuss federal relief options to stop evictions, homelessness

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Kalamazoo — Some of the federal pandemic relief funding meant for homeless services isn't reaching those most in need even as the potential for increased evictions becomes a reality, Kalamazoo housing advocates told Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson Monday.

"Any help we can get to help expedite those funds reaching the local level sooner would be great for us,” said Michelle Davis, executive director of Housing Resources Inc., told Carson in a round table discussion with other community leaders and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph. 

While awaiting federal funding, Kalamazoo housing and homeless officials said community help has helped to bridge the gap.

Pastor Michael, CEO and president for Kalamazoo Gospel Ministries, speaks to HUD Secretary Ben Carson and. U.S. Rep. Fred Upton during a tour of the facility Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.

John Simpson, chief operating officer for Kalamazoo Gospel Ministries, said he is concerned about evictions and congregate shelters not able to handle the increase in clients. "As we get closer to winter, we’re getting concerned about our ability as a community to respond to that," Simpson said.

Upton volunteered at Kalamazoo Gospel Ministries in February and invited Carson to visit the site, which has been received HUD funding in recent years.

But the pandemic delayed the visit for nearly six months before Carson and his wife, Candy Carson, both Michigan natives, made it to the multi-campus housing, ministry and rehabilitation organization. The organization houses about 75% of the homeless in Kalamazoo. 

The site received about $460,000 from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. 

Carson noted the importance of ensuring federal pandemic relief funds are made available to faith-based organizations such as Kalamazoo Gospel Ministries. 

Some of the issues with the distribution of federal pandemic relief has come in the way it is distributed through the state, an issue some in Congress hope to change in any upcoming pandemic relief packages, he said. 

"That package I think will be a little different than the one we passed in March," Upton said, adding that money will be sent directly "to the state, cities and counties."

Carson was optimistic that the eventual passing of the pandemic would ease some of the burdens social services currently are carrying. 

"The real question and the real issue is: How do we get back to a normal economic situation again?" Carson said. "How do we get rid of the fear that is paralyzing people? How do we make sure that we integrate the knowledge that we have about COVID-19 into rational logical actions. When we get over the fear and we can stop politicizing the pandemic I think the rest of it will take care of itself."

Carson, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, noted he had brought to the attention of the federal Food and Drug Administration the potential benefits of an oleander-based medication for the treatment of COVID-19.

"It's been discovered that it works extremely well against COVID-19 and envelope viruses," Carson said, noting there have been some laboratory studies and non-authorized trials performed on people. 

"What do you have to lose?" Carson said. "Unless there are other nefarious reasons that people don't want something like that to come out."

Carson's visit to Kalamazoo was preceded by earlier stops Monday at Cass Community's Social Services Tiny Homes in Detroit and Mel Trotter Ministries in Grand Rapids.