Ypsi organizations receive $3 million in federal funds to support child care, combat homelessness

Eleven Washtenaw County organizations addressing housing, homelessness, and child care needs have received more than $3 million in the county's latest round of Community Priority Fund disbursements. 
After facing the possibility of having to split his family between three different homeless shelters, Josh McCallister was inspired to start 2Marines, an organization that offers resources for veterans in the Ypsilanti area.

Now, 2Marines and 10 other Washtenaw County organizations addressing housing, homelessness, and child care needs have received more than $3 million in the county's latest round of Community Priority Fund disbursements. 

The fund was created by the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners in March to disburse federal funding allocated under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) to organizations addressing the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organizations receive both funding and technical support to become eligible to bid on contracts with the county. A previous round of funding focused on community violence intervention.

Because funds are targeted at historically under-resourced areas of Washtenaw County, most of the organizations funded in this round were based in the Ypsilanti area.

Funding receipients in the child care category are Ypsilanti-based Foundations Preschool (formerly known as Perry Nursery School) and Bottles-N-Backpacks Child Development Center, as well as Ann Arbor-based Child Care Network.

Organizations originally designated to receive funds in the housing/homelessness category included Huron Valley PACE, Life After Incarceration: Transition and Reentry (LAITR), Dawn Farm, Community Family Life Center (CFLC), the Family Empowerment Program (FEP), and 2Marines, all based in Ypsilanti or Ypsilanti Township. Ann Arbor-based House by the Side of the Road and Michigan Itinerant Shelter System Interdependent Out of Necessity (MISSION) also received funding.
2Marines co-founder Josh McAllister.
The categories of funding are somewhat fluid, and several organizations had their applications moved to a different category. That was the case for LAITR founder Ariana Gonzalez. 

LAITR contracts with the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office to provide occupational therapy to the formerly incarcerated, starting while they're still in prison and helping them navigate the transition to life outside. Gonzalez originally applied for the housing/homelessness category, but was ultimately funded through the Community Priority Fund's violence intervention category instead.

Gonzalez says a lot of the work she does with clients centers around building life skills like time management or anger management, both to keep clients out of the criminal justice system and make them more likely to stay housed and employed.

"Things like time management or budgeting may be things they never learned, or they've been incarcerated for so long that they've developed new habits that are not helpful on the outside," Gonzalez says. "We try to help equip people with the tools and skills they need to meet their goals and live the lives they want to be living."

She says she developed a passion for working with this population after seeing the overlap between homelessness, trauma, and incarceration. She hopes that her work will help dispel some of the stigma around the formerly incarcerated.

"A lot of these people had traumatic upbringings or were victims themselves," she says. "But when you treat people like human beings and ask what they want and need, you get a lot of participation and engagement."

FEP is housed within Eastern Michigan University, which is the fiduciary for funds that FEP receives. The program provides wraparound services to residents of Ypsilanti Housing Commission (YHC) communities, mostly on Ypsilanti's Southside. 
Washtenaw County public information officer Crystal Campbell.
Mark Hammond, director of the Family Empowerment Program, says the population living in YHC communities was already vulnerable before the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, he says the need for rental assistance, vaccines, help getting children set up for virtual education at home, and navigating job loss was "huge."

Hammond says he thought FEP originally was a better fit for another ARPA funding category, such as education or direct assistance to families. But he says that just shows how many different aspects the program touches on.

"The review body was trying to figure out where to place us, since we provide such an array of services," Hammond says. "They pegged us as housing and homelessness, but we provide education as well."

Hammond notes that education "was a big focus this year" for FEP. In particular, the program responded to an educational disparity between the west and east sides of Washtenaw County by providing after-school tutoring and a GED diploma program, as well as serving as a satellite location for Washtenaw Literacy programming. FEP is also sponsoring some STEM programming with CODE 313 and Parkridge Community Center.

Crystal Campbell, public information officer for Washtenaw County, says that while well-known organizations like Dawn Farm received grants, the Community Priority Fund is also an opportunity to fund small, grassroots organizations that are lesser known in the community. 

For instance, Campbell says the CFLC, a nonprofit arm of the Grace Fellowship Church House of Solutions, will be able to expand the work it's already doing in Ypsi Township's Sugarbrook neighborhood.

"They're attempting to intervene earlier and address the root causes of housing insecurity early on so folks don't find themselves unhoused later," Campbell says. "They're very targeted in terms of the Sugarbrook neighborhood. It's open to all, but I like that neighborhood, place-based intervention. This is an opportunity to scale out and scale up and hire some additional staff."
Life After Incarceration: Transition and Reentry founder Ariana Gonzalez.
2Marines is another grassroots organization funded in the new round. The organization works with Veterans Affairs to connect vets to resources. McCallister wrote the business plan for what became 2Marines while pursuing an entrepreneurship certificate from Washtenaw Community College. He, his wife, their daughters, and his younger brother were all living in a one-room hotel at the time.

McCallister says 2Marines exists to fill gaps in social services. For instance, Washtenaw County Veterans Service will give a veteran in need a voucher for $250 in groceries. But a veteran experiencing homelessness will likely have nowhere to store that much food.

"You can't fit $250 worth of groceries into a hotel mini-fridge, but you have to use that entire $250. If you don't know how to utilize that $250, you waste it," he says.

McCallister says that 2Marines will fill those types of gaps. The organization can alert veterans to the $250 voucher, teach them how to budget, let them store their meat in the McCallisters' deep freezer, show them where to find local food pantries, and even house them in a hotel for four or five days if necessary.

McCallister also serves as director of the West Willow neighborhood farmers market and can directly employ veterans in that work, whether physical lifting during the market or dealing with administrative paperwork. He says he prefers to find work for veterans rather than just handing out cash. 

He says the ARPA funding will allow 2Marines to continue its work and also expand its services to work with landlords and manage properties as the organization becomes eligible to contract with the county. 

Upcoming rounds of funding from the Community Priority Fund will target the categories of direct assistance to families and education. More information about the Community Priority Fund can be found here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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