Ted Dearing, Battle Creek Assistant City Manager
Robert Elchert, Executive Director of the SHARE Center
Boonikka Herring, Battle Creek City Commissioner
Lee Talmage, Executive Director of the Battle Creek Housing Commission
A delegation of 13 community and city leaders from Battle Creek traveled to South Shore Commons, Permanent Supportive Housing development in Gary, Ind, to take a tour and talk with the developer, staff and residents about this housing option. City officials have been in discussions for more than a year with UPholdings, which develops Permanent Supportive Housing and affordable housing, about the feasibility of locating a PSH complex in Battle Creek. Below is a Q & A with some of those who made the trip to South Shores:
Q. What did you like most about the South Shore Commons facility?
A. Ted Dearing, Battle Creek Assistant City Manager: What really stood out to me is the passion we saw with the Upholding staff and service providers. They’re truly interested in making a difference in the lives of people who were homeless.
Robert Elchert, Executive Director of the SHARE Center: I really liked the service provider, Tim Burleson. I can tell he genuinely cares about the residents and has built trusting relationships with them. This sort of attitude and approach is often a critical part of someone's recovery.
Boonikka Herring, Battle Creek City Commissioner: I loved the supportiveness of the service providers. I think it’s a great idea that providers come on-site to service clients.
Lee Talmage, Executive Director of the Battle Creek Housing Commission: The upkeep of the facilities was good and it appeared to be well utilized. The community room we were gathered in was clean but there did not seem to be any attempt at covering up the normal wear and tear that can be expected to exist in rooms of that type. That is, UPHoldings appears to successfully be providing wrap-around services to those residents that are interested in receiving them. I also liked most the large open common areas and spaces used to provide services, administrative and clinical.
Q. What did you like least about the South Shore Commons facility?
A. Dearing: I don’t know if I can say anything I didn’t like about it. It was important to see a site like this in action to get over the stigma associated with permanent supportive housing. You can see the impact it makes and that overcomes the negative views of permanent supportive housing.
Elchert: The building is really nice. However, it seemed like some of the common areas could use some upgrades (e.g. the exercise room).
Herring: I have concerns about the mixed-use of housing. I think it would be better if it was either all family housing or all permanent supportive housing.
Talmage: There seemed to be a lack of natural light in the corridors. Windows in rooms that contain amenities for exercise and recreation would encourage more use. UPHoldings made it clear South Shore Commons, the development, was obtained from another developer that could not realize its original plan for the development. A new facility in Battle Creek would use a different design.
Q: Does Battle Creek need Permanent Supportive Housing?
A. Dearing: I think everything we’ve been hearing from service providers and other community service providers who work around homelessness will say we need this in Battle Creek. UPholdings has done some of their own analysis. These perspectives and analyses obviously give us the best connection to what the needs are in the community. The Continuum of Care, our shelters, and mental health providers are all interacting with people who are homeless.
Homelessness is certainly associated with mental health and substance abuse issues and that is something that gives people concern. If you can provide the right types of services, particularly when they’re provided on-site, issues of alcoholism and substance abuse can be managed with residents and not to the detriment of the surrounding community.
Elchert: Definitely yes! A lot of the people we see at the SHARE Center would benefit greatly from having PSH. Furthermore, mental health and substance abuse issues continuously rank as high priorities in our Community Health Needs Assessments. Having a stable living environment with the right types of support greatly increases someone's chances of recovery as opposed to dealing with these issues while also experiencing the daily trauma and struggles of being homeless.
Herring: Battle Creek needs any type of housing that we can get. As someone who works to help house people every day, all types of housing are desperately needed. Permanent supportive housing would be an asset to this community in partnership with excellent support service care.
Talmage: The Battle Creek community is historically rich in nonprofits, foundations, and public entities that recognize that the Continuum of Cares data from HUD, the State, and gathered locally supports the need for a Permanent Supportive development. It has been the one indicator, like the MSHDA "walkability" indicator, that has kept Battle Creek from receiving more Homelessness related funding. We have public housing, subsidized multi-family, Housing Choice Vouchers for specialized populations, veterans transitional housing, but no permanent supportive housing. Our greatest obstacle as a community is location. This is where our generosity breaks down.
Q.: What are some major concerns you have about Permanent Supportive Housing?
A. Dearing: Some of it is just the unknown. We don’t have a multifamily PSH in our community. Some of the city’s residents don’t know who the residents of a PSH are that access these services. They don’t understand what permanent supportive housing means for these individuals. People don’t often recognize the willingness of homeless people to change their conditions. I think homeless individuals could just use a little hand up to move towards independence and self-sufficiency.
Elchert: Unfortunately, there are a lot of stereotypes about people who live in PSH. I am afraid it is going to take a lot of public education to alleviate people's concerns about the development and its tenants before we will be able to build anything here. This is a national issue and not just limited to Battle Creek.
Herring: I just want to make sure that Battle Creek has the support services needed to set a permanent supportive housing complex such as this one up for success. Location is key, having the correct partners is key, and making sure that this project is the correct fit for our city is key.
Talmage: I have no major concern with the Permanent Supportive Housing concept. I do have a concern with our losing an opportunity to partner with a "specialist" developer sensitive to the concerns of the community as well as the needs of homeless families at risk.
Q.: What do you think of UPholdings' philosophy about Permanent Supportive Housing and the way they go about setting up these developments?
A. Dearing: I would have a lot of confidence based on UPholdings experience and development of permanent supportive housing developments in urban and rural settings. They reached out to us. Occasionally when they build, they work with a commercial construction company and one of those individuals had a connection to Battle Creek. UPholdings saw there was a need here and wanted to come and talk to us about it.
Elchert: I appreciate their willingness to engage with the people who would benefit from their developments. They even took the time to speak with our guests at the SHARE Center. This feedback is important because having and utilizing it is the best way to ensure you are meeting needs.
Herring: I feel like UPholdings needs to make sure to engage with the homeowners and residents of the neighborhoods they are trying to be a part of. I’m a fan of community forums and feel that speaking with the potential neighborhoods is key in the success of this program.
Talmage: I'm not sure the Housing First model is infallible. I would be interested in looking at any case studies that UPHoldings could provide as to how they deal with individuals they must terminate from their developments.
Q.: What would be the ideal site for a Permanent Supportive Housing development in Battle Creek?
A. Dearing: Because of the way these projects are financed to some degree we need to ensure that there are amenities in and around the site. They still need to get to the grocery store and the pharmacy and many of them need to get to work, so they need to be near public transportation and in a walkable environment where they have access to greenspace and outdoor amenities. I don’t know have a site in mind at this point.
Elchert: I think the former K-Mart location would make sense for a few reasons. First, it is not located in a highly residential area, so NIMBY issues would not be as much of a concern. Second, it is close to downtown and all of the services and business residents would need. Third, the SHARE Center is across the street and can provide both supportive and basic needs services and resources.
Herring: There is a space of land over by the old unemployment building on Hamblin that I think would be great. Close to downtown, the SHARE Center, the grocery store and close to the service providers.
Talmage: So far the two proposed sites thus far are ideal, outside of the neighborhood pushback. The HART Hotel, maybe Southwestern School, both on Washington are underutilized properties. There may be plans for both, but when? There is a large tract of land on 20th and Eldred. I am aware that all of these have particular issues. If I had my way, I think the land along the river between Division and Elm could be a good location.
Q.: What are your biggest concerns about providing Permanent Supportive Housing in Battle Creek?
A. Dearing: An Important next step for us is to do education and awareness around this issue and build a supportive coalition who can be advocates for this housing option and can talk about the positives. A lot of this will happen informally until we're at a point when we can focus on a particular site. If we can identify sites, we will have the potential need to engage the surrounding community. We’ve got to engage that community in conversation and talk about the benefits for the area and the community. I think that UPholding’s approach from the very beginning has been a new build. I don’t recall them talking about renovating an existing building.
Elchert: Finding a location that is amenable to everyone will be a challenge.
Herring: I want to make sure that we focus on other types of housing in addition to Permanent Supportive Housing.
Talmage: That the opportunity will be lost due to unmovable concerns about location.