If you’ve been encountering more panhandlers around campus lately, you’re not alone. The number of homeless individuals in Washtenaw County, specifically in the city of Ann Arbor, increased in 2009. But area homeless shelters haven’t been able to keep up with the influx of people in need of help. As the weather in Michigan gets colder — even dangerously cold — it’s especially important that homeless people have a shelter available. Washtenaw County and its residents have a social responsibility to help the homeless. The county should allocate resources toward expanding homeless shelters and programs for helping these individuals to find jobs.

According to the Washtenaw County Office of Community Development, the number of homeless individuals registered in the county has grown from 3,940 in 2006 to 4,618 in 2009, as reported in an Oct. 25 Daily article. This increase has resulted in overcrowding at shelters around Washtenaw County. Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, attributes this increase to the “generosity of students.” Brian Nord, a founding member of the tent city for homeless individuals known as Camp Take Notice, believes that homeless people are drawn to Ann Arbor because of the safety of the city.

The residents of Washtenaw County should devote time to understanding and battling homelessness. While giving money to the panhandlers is kind, it may have an effect of keeping homeless individuals from becoming financially self-sufficient. Students and other residents should make an effort to realize the causes behind the poverty of the homeless.

It’s a public duty of the county to help those who are financially less fortunate. Homeless shelters are able to provide food, water and a bed to people who would otherwise go without. Currently, the Delonis Center — the main homeless shelter in downtown Ann Arbor — is able to help 1,200 to 1,500 people annually in a variety of ways by maxing out its resources. But the shelters still aren’t able to help everyone in need. Washtenaw County needs to allocate more funds toward improving shelters and building more so they can help more people.

Shelters can’t single-handedly solve the problem of homelessness. Though homeless shelters are important in the short term, homeless individuals still need help in the long term. Individuals often move from shelter to shelter and are never lifted out of poverty. It’s crucial that there are resources in place to help homeless people to find jobs and eventually a permanent place to live. The Delonis Center currently has a long-term residential system in place, but it needs the resources from the county to expand so it can serve more people. Washtenaw County needs to increase social services aimed at decreasing poverty and homelessness, which are necessary to reduce the number of people who rely on the shelters.

The increase in the number of homeless individuals in Ann Arbor has stretched resources too thin to help all those in need. The county needs to allocate resources to provide immediate help to the homeless, while also helping to lift them out of poverty.

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