The University Record, October 24, 1994

Summers: Shelter provides U-M the opportunity to put its ideals to work

By Sage Arron

On any given night in Ann Arbor there are people who don’t have a safe, comfortable place in which to sleep, take a bath, eat, or wash their clothes. The creation of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County in 1984 was Ann Arbor’s response. “The Shelter was created because of an immediate need,” says Joseph Summers, president of the association’s board of directors and a founding member. “People didn’t have anywhere to sleep.”

In the early fall of 1982 volunteers who ran a breakfast program at St. Andrews Episcopal Church noticed that a significant number of the people they were feeding were homeless. They responded by providing shelter. The need increased and in 1984 the Shelter Association, a private non-profit corporation, was created. In the years since its incorporation, the Shelter Association has expanded its facilities and programs as well as changed its name (in 1994) to the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County.

In addition to providing shelter and support services, the shelter is committed to working toward the elimination of homelessness through advocating for social change and justice, empowering individuals, and educating the community. “As president of the association, it is my hope that one day we will go out of business,” says Summers, who attributes Ann Arbor’s increased homeless rates largely to government cuts in the low-income housing budget, destruction of too many Ann Arbor rooming houses, and a mental health agenda that has released patients into the community. “We still need to provide emergency shelter,” says Summers, “while also focusing on the long-term goal of transitional and affordable housing.”

Paula Stewart, executive director of the association, says, “Many mental health facilities discharge patients (and tell them they can go) to local shelters and we think that’s egregious!” Stewart believes there needs to be an array of community services communicating with each other and providing support for released patients beyond 9 a.m.–5 p.m. business hours. Such facilities would relieve the shelter of nearly half its current population, whose mental illness forces their return as clients.

One of the shelter’s proudest achievements, according to Summers, has been the establishment of Avalon Housing Inc. A project developed to create more affordable housing in Ann Arbor, Avalon became a self-supporting organization in 1992. “Shelters are temporary, crisis-driven places,” says Avalon development specialist Michael Apple. “Our goal is to provide housing that’s affordable to people who are vulnerable to homelessness.” Apple adds that while the shelter addresses issues of immediate care, Avalon’s goal is more permanent.

While Avalon must be designated to receive United Way support, the shelter is regularly funded with dollars from United Way’s general campaign.

The University’s United Way fund drive, which began Sept. 26, has now reached $608,988—61 percent of the $1 million goal.

Another invaluable source of support, according to Summers, is the University community. University staff members have served on the association’s board of directors and volunteered alongside students. “The relationship between the University and the shelter is good in that it gives the University an opportunity to put its ideals into practice.” Summers says.

For information on the shelter’s volunteer and other programs call 662-2829.