New group in Madison Heights aims to address homelessness

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published July 26, 2019


MADISON HEIGHTS — Recognizing that bad things can happen to good people, a new group is forming in Madison Heights with the goal of helping the homeless.

The group is being organized by Kymm Clark — chair of the Madison Heights Arts Board and co-founder of Clark’s Fabrication — and Madison Heights Mayor Brian Hartwell.

The mayor recalled how it all started.

“Kymm Clark approached me with the urgent request to assist a local homeless woman,” Hartwell said. “When I arrived at a meeting of other concerned citizens (at Clark’s Fabrication), I couldn’t identify who in the room was the homeless person. Come to find out, the woman fled her home due to severe physical and emotional abuse from a domestic partner. She lived in a temporary shelter with access to showers and occasional meals, but no privacy nor dignity. Also, the shelter can’t keep her forever.

“After an honest conversation about the contributing factors to why this woman is without a permanent home — partly because she can’t find a job with sustainable wages — Kymm Clark and I realized that city leaders should do more to listen to our local homeless, identify patterns of causes and behaviors leading to homelessness, and execute a plan to respond to the need,” Hartwell said.

“We are not suggesting that the city build a homeless shelter. Madison Heights is committed to supporting developers build affordable housing for low-income families. Case in point, the proposed PILOT program for affordable (senior living) housing on Dequindre,” he said. “Instead, I believe the city should establish an official work study group or city commission to analyze the homelessness situation and offer suggestions. Our city can refer our homeless to the private and charitable resources they need.”

The first meeting, the one with the homeless woman, was held June 15. At press time, the group was looking to meet again July 25.

Clark described the homeless woman’s situation in more detail.

“About 18 months ago, she found herself in a domestic violence situation where every system that has been put in place to protect her failed her — from the law, to the medics that were supposed to help her when she was in need,” Clark said. “Her struggle to have this man convicted, and to protect her family led to her distancing herself from her support system and dealing with a variety of mental health issues. The resources she has access to cause her to lose time with her family, and keeps her on a strict schedule in order to be able to receive them.”

Clark noted that not all homeless people are panhandlers, and that you don’t necessarily know a person is homeless by looking at them.

“I would not have known (the woman) was homeless if she didn’t tell me,” Clark said. “I would like part of our commission’s responsibilities to be identifying it, as well as cataloging resources that can help and building a community around those in need, because society has established a pattern of looking away when social systems fail and taking care of their own first. I believe that every person in this community brings something to the table. If we do not embrace those in need, they will fall through the cracks, and our community becomes weaker because of it.”

The group is still in its infancy, studying the process of becoming an official city-sanctioned board or commission, as well as coordinating resources and potential volunteers.

“I think we need to start small. If we come out swinging, trying to implement systems that need a ton of funding, we might find the program failing before we get off the ground,” Clark said. “I think we need to first catalog our resources. Starting with (the homeless woman), we can assess her individual needs and work towards getting her where she needs to be. From there, we will have her and other recruited volunteers to seek out more individuals, maybe even one at a time at first, to grow a community in which our homeless can start to fall back on for support. Once the community is strong enough, we can utilize our efforts to fundraise for bigger projects like housing and grants.

“I just cannot continue to look away while so many of my neighbors are suffering,” she added. “I know there are a ton of people like me who live in this city who just want to do more and be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

The mayor said it’s a cause worth supporting.

“The assumption is that our homeless are drug-addicted, emotionally unwell urchins. This is offensive and not true,” Hartwell said. “The homeless men and women in our city have stories, and they have value to society. They are individuals deserving of our respect. The least we can do is listen and understand their struggles. The best we can do is remove a barrier or two and then guide them to secure housing.”

For more information on how to get involved, call Kymm Clark at (248) 497-3742.