SOS Community Services, a non-profit organization in Washtenaw County, Michigan, is responding to an unprecedented surge in demand for their services, especially for shelter, in 2023. According to Executive Director Rhonda Weathers, the organization has over 150 families living outside and waiting for shelter, compared to a pre-pandemic average of 25-35 families. The surge has been attributed to the end of pandemic-era assistance for rent-burdened families, inflation leading to a 10% increase in rental housing cost and the lack of affordable housing units.
Efforts by SOS Community Services in curbing Homelessness in Washtenaw County
For over 53 years, SOS Community Services has been fostering housing stability and family self-sustainability in Washtenaw County. This non-profit organization, under the leadership of Rhonda Weathers, its Executive Director for 13 years, assists individuals facing homelessness, housing insecurity, and food insecurity.
The organization operates mainly in Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County, providing help to approximately 5,000 individuals annually. Services offered include shelter, rapid rehousing, eviction prevention, utility assistance, a food pantry and a diaper pantry. They also run a nationally acclaimed Parents as Teachers program.
The Impact of 2023 Challenges
2023 brought about significant challenges for SOS Community Services, with an unprecedented surge in demand for their amenities. According to Weathers, the current demand for shelter drastically exceeds the supply, with over 150 families living outside awaiting shelter. This is attributed to factors such as the end of pandemic-era rent assistance for burdened families and a 10% local housing cost increase due to inflation.
The organization’s food pantry has also experienced increased demand, serving 275 households weekly, compared to the pre-pandemic 125 households. This surge is attributed to the inflation in grocery prices and the reduction in SNAP benefits.
Reasons for SOS’s Vast Help Areas
SOS offers help in various areas for significant reasons:
- Stable housing fosters thriving communities.
- Homeless children, who on average move five times a year, suffer setbacks in school with each move. Stable housing promotes healthier growth and development, positioning them for success in school and life.
- Stable housing and access to basic needs enable families to work on long-term goals, such as improving their health, education, and career.
History of SOS Community Services
SOS Community Services was established by a group of student leaders and faculty at Eastern Michigan University to offer drug-related crisis intervention. In 1973, the organization expanded its services to include food and shelter provision, and in the 1980s, due to changing economic conditions, SOS further assisted those experiencing housing difficulties.
Volunteering and Donations
Although SOS receives some state and federal funding, it depends on community support. Donations provide the flexible funds necessary to respond to grassroots level needs and meet federal and state grant matching requirements. The community can help by volunteering at the food pantry, organizing food, diaper, or gift card drives, and supporting local affordable housing development initiatives.
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