County Seat Newspaper
of Clare County

BOC Hears of Neighboring County’s New Dawn Shelter



Cleaver Staff Writer

HARRISON – Addressing the March meeting of the Clare County Board of Commissioners was Doug Lewis, a co-director of New Dawn Shelter in Gladwin, accompanied by co-worker Lanette Morgan. Lewis began the New Dawn presentation by explaining that he had been part of the shelter’s inception 10 years prior, and at that time observed homeless people who often sought help from churches, which in turn would put them up in hotels/motels for a few nights, and end up back out on the street without any real change in their situation.

“So, we began to study the options of what we can do help the homeless populations in Clare, Arenac and Gladwin counties,” Lewis said. Which, he said, led to observing other shelters and ultimately deciding to become a small 10-12 bed shelter. Also noted was the practice of the homeless staying for the night, leaving in the morning: a daily process that would be limited to 90 days, when they would leave and not return.

“We really wanted to have an impact on our homeless population,” he said. “So, we decided that we would be a shelter in which people would come, be able to stay up to 90 days – but during that time we would do some pretty intensive case management with them.”

That led to examination of funding, and awareness that some shelters receive state funding, but that it comes with a lot of strings attached. As a faith-based organization, New Dawn chose to remain independent. As a local problem, the choice was to seek local funding, and so the shelter has always been funded strictly from donations and grants from the communities.

Lewis also noted that the thought of increasing in size was overridden by the fact that it’s more effective to function on a personal level with 10 or 12 people than with 20 or 30 people.

He described the original effort to be an emergency shelter, which soon yielded people who were running from the law, drunk or high on drugs. That made for a difficult mix with the families at the shelter, and that led to the policy of doing extensive background checks on anyone coming into the shelter. That includes criminal background checks, an agreement to seek help for addiction, and instruction that case management is a “must” in order to stay.

“So, we’ve got a reputation for being a hard shelter for people,” Lewis said. “But we also firmly believed from Day One that our shelter was there to offer people a hand-up, not a hand-out.”

He said there are ways of helping people that can actually make their situation worse, and ways of helping people that can make their situation better.

“And we’ve really determined form the very beginning our desire was to leave people in a better place when we were done working with them than when they came into us,” Lewis said. “We developed an extensive inquiry system; we get about 750 inquires a year from people that are homeless.”

Many are directed to shelters in their own region. Lewis said of the many people who called the previous week, three-quarters were from Flint, Saginaw, Bay City, Detroit and the Wayne County area. Additionally, a lot of case work is done in concert with other shelters to provide services for people highly anxious about coming into a shelter setting. He cited working closely with Mid Michigan Community Action Agency, Community Mental Health and the courts.

“We’re not afraid to take somebody in who has a criminal background,” he said. “But we want to make sure they’re trying to improve their situation while they’re staying with us.”

Lewis said that being volunteer-driven makes New Dawn Shelter a unique organization, and that ensuring the safety of guests also extends to the all-volunteer staff.

Also noted was that half the people served come from Clare County, and that rarely does someone come from Arenac County.

Morgan then described the types of assistance that agencies provide. MMCAA which is HRA the housing agency which helps guests with security deposits and rental assistance up to 18 months if they qualify. She also spoke of working with Community Mental Health, and the difficulty in getting appointments there after COVID had brought mental health issues to the forefront.

“We work with DHS [Michigan Department of Health and Human Services] as most of our guests are in need of a Bridge Card,” she said. “Most of them need insurance, Medicaid, so we link them up with DHS, if they aren’t already. So, we work with a lot of different agencies to help them do better and be able to be successful when they move out. Our end goal is for our guests to get a place of their own.”

She said that although self-described as a 90-day facility, it is understood that statewide housing issues make that a challenge.

“As long as they are working with us, not creating issues,” Morgan said. “They’re working at getting some income, if they don’t already have income, we will extend their time with us.”

The case management also means that achievable goals are being set. Awareness that the circumstances that lead to homelessness are varied, and the case management focuses on what is needed for each individual to get them out of homelessness.

Morgan also spoke of fundraising events, specifically the Shelter’s August golf outing held for the past five or six years at Devil’s Knob, and the annual 5k held in the fall. Additionally, support comes from local churches and individuals through monetary or in-kind donations.

“Everything that you use in your household, as far as garbage bags, paper towels, disinfectant wipes, cleaner – all of that we use as well, just to another level,” she said.

Additionally, being a faith-based organization, various people come in daily to do devotions, which are encouraged although not mandatory.

“The only time the shelter is closed is on Sunday from 9 a.m. until noon,” Morgan said. “Because our volunteers go to church, and so we encourage our guests to go to church as well.”

It was stated that about 70 people used the shelter last year, and that about one-third of those were from Clare County – down by fully half from the year prior. Further discussed was the difficulty in getting an accurate count of homeless persons, as well as the frequent discovery by deer hunters of people sleeping in their hunting blinds who then have to leave.

“We see our numbers increase right about hunting season time,” Lewis said. “So, it is an invisible situation. I remember sitting in a City Council meeting in Gladwin, and somebody on the City Council said ‘We don’t have any homeless people here.’ There was somebody, at that time, living about 100 yards behind City Hall in Gladwin in the woods. But they’re invisible – they really are invisible quite often.”

Asked what was the Shelter’s No. 1 need, the instant answer was “volunteers.” Lewis said that in 2020, the Shelter had 24 volunteers, and is now operating with 12. Also noted was the return of some previous guests who now seek to be those volunteers who have a chance to give back to others who are homeless.


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