Area Homeless Shelters Working to Combat Overcrowding

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The bitter cold and snow lately has created a bitter reality for area homeless shelters, many in the Lansing area are at-capacity or over capacity.

The Volunteers of America shelter in Lansing brought in extra cots and blankets Thursday to accommodate the influx, even opening up space in its 'New Hope Day Shelter' for the overflow.

Shelter directors, like Patrick Patterson with Volunteers of America, say the last thing they want to do is turn people away.

"This is the worst overcrowding we've experienced in my tenure here, which is going back 13 years," Patterson said. "When it's cold like this, all the systems are maxed out"

Patterson blames the colder weather starting earlier this year, which has forced more people than usual to seek shelter at places like the VOA.

But the VOA doesn't have to go it alone, because the homeless providers in the Lansing area work together, Patterson said.

"We notify the city and then we go into daily communications with each other," he said.

Whether it's working with other shelters, or working with the city's department of human services to put needy families up in area hotels as a last resort, it's all part of a program known as the 'Continuum of Care.'

"It's really something to be proud of because a lot of other cities in the state are not that well organized," Patterson said.

The 'Hotel-Motel' program is funded through state grants provided to the city, along with funding from the United Way and various fundraising through the VOA.

The service is only available to families and is only used as a last resort if all other beds in the city's shelters are filled, according to Patterson.

When the VOA can't handle the influx, one of the places they direct people to is the City Rescue Mission of Lansing, but even they're at capacity, according to Executive Director Mark Criss.

"But it's to be expected, quite honestly this time of year we do prepare for occasions such as this," Criss said.

What's unexpected is the amount of women and young children currently in the shelters, according to Criss.

"Sustainable work has been a challenge, and I think part of it is a lot of companies are not providing full-time work because the question regarding insurance," he said.

"A lot of companies are doing two part-time people instead of one full-time and that part-time job that a lot of our ladies would be able to get will not sustain them and they family long-term."

Criss said the number of women and children they have now is more typical for the summer months with the number typically decreasing around the holidays.

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