Housing crisis

Resilience in the face of the Riverview Terrace housing crisis

On July 25, the world changed dramatically for 200 residents of the 163 Riverview Terrace units in downtown Adrian. The skyscraper that houses the elderly and people with disabilities has closed due to structural issues. The world has changed for these residents and the helpers from local health and social service agencies who are working tirelessly to meet the often overwhelming needs. Currently, there are many emergency needs: food, shelter, medical supplies, personal care items, and even pet supplies. Unfortunately, hovering over the whole situation, there is a huge need for affordable housing.

Over the past few weeks, I have been amazed by frontline workers and leaders who are actively responding to these needs. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) provides direct case management services, meeting basic emergency needs under the direction of Linda Needham and Nancy Bishop. The Lenawee County Department of Aging, led by Cari Rebottaro, provided daily meals to displaced residents. Lynne Punnett, retired executive director of Habitat for Humanity and recent acting director of Housing Help of Lenawee, led the Lenawee Continuum of Care (C of C) housing group to provide interagency coordination and pursue housing leads affordable in ALL surrounding counties. The new director of Housing Help of Lenawee, Claudia Annoni, is also very involved. Lenawee Community Mental Health Authority, Region 2 Aging Agency and Community Action Agency have also been on the front lines working directly with residents. Adrian Dial-a-Ride and the Lenawee Transportation Corps provided much needed transportation throughout the crisis. The overall response is overseen by Lenawee County Emergency Management in partnership with the City of Adrian.

I saw these groups in action when we sponsored a Resident Resource Fair, in partnership with DHHS, at the Dundee Hotel. We were already helping the DHHS case management team with emergency gift cards for identified small urgent needs like diabetic supplies, food, gas, and personal care items. The first time I dropped off flyers at the Resident Resource Fair, I spent time with them, just listening. I admired their resilience despite the circumstances. They wanted to know when they could return home to Adrian. I had no answer, and when I got in my car to leave, I wanted to cry. I spent 28 years in the Red Cross emergency services, responding to fires, floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters. However, these disasters had a beginning and an end. In this situation, there is no end in sight.

The next day we offered a continental breakfast to the residents and then I witnessed the diligent work being done by all the aid agencies. We provided a lunch for workers to thank them for their selfless work, and I got more gift cards as needed for DHHS workers to help residents. I left at the end of the day marveling (and remembering) how these crisis events eventually fell into an established response pattern, and it was happening, for now.

The scene changed a week later when I returned to Dundee to file some housing applications with DHHS workers. DHHS workers were calming residents after the stress of preparing them to return to Adrian Hotels. I saw the anxiety on the faces of the residents. I saw exhausted concern on the faces of DHHS workers and how much they cared about their charges. I watched the bus stop to pick up the residents. I turned my attention to the workers, encouraging them on the wonderful job they were doing under such difficult circumstances, affirming all they had done so far. I left wanting to cry. I did my best to help the helpers that day.

The Housing Continuum of Care (C of C) is a United States-mandated housing and urban development consortium that helps assess and address local housing needs. A coordinated local housing and resource assessment agency is the backbone of each local C of C. In Lenawee County, that agency is Housing Help of Lenawee. We meet monthly as a group and now almost daily to deal with this crisis. This dedicated K of C team valiantly responds to the needs of the residents of Riverview Terrace. There are no easy answers. Long-term affordable housing is desperately needed because there is extremely little affordable housing in the county, in the state, and in this country.

So how are we helping the most vulnerable in our community in this crisis? We take each day one day at a time, much like our fragile but resilient loads.

If you would like to help the residents of Riverview Terrace, Lenawee County, you can make a financial donation to the Lenawee Community Foundation (www.lenaweecommunityfoundation.com or 517-263-4696). For a list of tangible items to donate, head over to Adrian’s Town Facebook page. These items are picked up at the Share the Warmth Shelter at 427 W. Maumee St., Adrian.

United Way funds 12 local agency programs in Lenawee County and serves as the donor designation vehicle for more than 30 additional agencies. For more information on giving and living together, contact us. Call us at 517-264-6821, call for an appointment at our Adrian office at 136 E. Maumee St., Suite 15, Adrian, MI 49221 or visit our website at www.unitedwaymlc.org. You can email us at lpipis@unitedwaymlc.org.

Laura Schultz Pipis is the Executive Director of United Way of Monroe/Lenawee Counties.