Year in Review: Home to Stay Executive Director Donna St. John

Intro by Ron Beacom:

Unfortunately, not everyone has a good roof over their head or a good bed to sleep in. Home To Stay is a local non-profit with two main programs: Homeless Prevention services and Home Repair. Home to Stay was formed in 1969 as Midland Area Homes Inc. That still serves as the organization's legal name.  It was formed when ten local churches came together to address unsuitable living conditions for Midland County residents.  Home to Stay also accepts donated furniture that is redistributed free of charge to those in need.

Donna St. John has served as the Executive Director since February 2019. She worked for over 20 years as a LBSW (Licensed Bachelor Social Worker) in many settings including foster care, community mental  health, and Senior Services. She's married with three children and lives in Midland County. 

Article by Donna St. John:

Homelessness in Midland County looks different than what we may perceive.  It often looks like a mom and her small child living in her car.  She parks in the Walmart parking lot where she knows they won’t be asked to move.  Homelessness can be a family where one adult had serious health issues and the other had a job that paid just enough for food, electricity, and gas to get to work.  There wasn’t enough to cover the rent so it didn’t get paid.  The next step was eviction.  Homelessness can also look like someone who can’t find housing since the availability of affordable rentals in Midland County doesn’t come close to meeting the need.  A recent statewide housing plan identified a shortfall of 190,000 housing units in Michigan.  Area emergency housing shelters are continually full and have to turn folks away on a regular basis.   
Homelessness in Midland County looks different than what we may perceive.  It often looks like a mom and her small child living in her car. 
In 2023, during the annual Point In Time (PIT) Count, Midland County reported 76 homeless individuals.  80% were residing in emergency shelters during the last week in January when the PIT Count was conducted.  The number of homeless individuals in Midland County has steadily increased over the past few years, dropping slightly in 2023, as recorded in the annual PIT data.  Based on increased calls from individuals stating they are homeless, Home To Stay-Housing Assistance Center anticipates a substantial increase in reported homelessness during the next PIT Count coming up in January 2024.  Reports from area shelters and local law enforcement also indicate an increase in homelessness in the Midland area.  Individuals and families are sleeping in their cars or setting up camps in wooded areas.  This doesn’t include those who are doubled up with friends and family or couch surfing.  

Every community has residents who have nowhere to stay.  In Midland County, those folks are not typically sleeping on the sidewalk in cardboard boxes like they are in other areas, but they are here.  They are individuals, families, veterans, children and older adults.  It is especially concerning as we approach the coldest months of the year.  Individuals will not survive the cold temps, especially if they have other health related needs, if they can’t escape the elements.  Home To Stay-Housing Assistance Center provides services to those facing housing instability.  We provide case management, rental assistance, advocacy, housing resource information and referrals for those in homeless situations or facing eviction.  However, the need in the community is greater than the available resources.  Emergency shelters lack the capacity to provide temporary housing for everyone in need.  Sometimes individuals decline emergency shelter services for a variety of reasons.  Most shelters are not equipped to accept pets and individuals sometimes refuse to be apart from their furry companion who provides them with so much emotional support. 

Home to Stay was first formed in 1969 as Midland Area Homes, Inc.
Midland County, like so many other communities, lacks adequate affordable housing.  Available rental units do not remain vacant for very long.  Rent rates are high and not affordable for many.  For an individual to rent a 1-bedroom apartment at $850/month, their monthly income needs to be $2833 (30% of their income going toward housing expenses including utilities).  This would be equivalent to a 40 hour/week job at $16.00/hour.  For those working for minimum wage or on Social Security, this would not be feasible.   

More affordable housing options are needed including landlords who will accept Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) vouchers.  We also need to identify additional locations for homeless individuals to get out of the cold weather and get something to eat during the winter months when being homeless is a matter of life or death. 

The Midland Local Planning Body meets monthly to discuss ending homelessness in our community.  Several agencies, local government and community volunteers are well represented.  If you’d like to learn more about how to get involved, please reach out to Home To Stay by phone at 989-496-9550 or email
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