Transportation & Homelessness

Step back and think about how your life would be different if for one week you didn’t have access to transportation. Missing work might lead to unemployment and prevent access to necessities like groceries and medical care. For many in Michigan, this is not an exercise, but a very real risk.  Whether a person can’t afford a necessary repair on his or her car or there is no longer a public transit connection between home and work, an abrupt loss of access to transportation can create debilitating financial hardships which can lead to homelessness.

Source: Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness

Source: Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness

We recently spoke with Eric Hufnagel, Executive Director at the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness (MCAH) to learn more about the connection between transportation and homelessness. MCAH, a Trans4M Member, works to decrease the prevalence of homelessness and improve the quality of services provided to individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. According to Eric, “lack of access to transportation is a major risk factor associated with becoming homeless and is often overlooked.”

“45% of individuals who were homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless in 2013 in Michigan identified having transportation problems that impacted work.” – Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness

Michigan has over 86,000 homeless individuals – the highest homeless population in the Midwest and the fifth highest in the nation. Hufnagel connected transportation to Michigan’s homelessness crisis through findings from the Michigan Statewide Homeless Management Information System, a database managed by MCAH;  45% of individuals who were homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless in 2013 in Michigan identified having transportation problems that impacted work. Losing transportation leaves individuals and families with little time to prepare for financial hardships, as losing access to employment can put a family living paycheck-to-paycheck at risk for homelessness in a matter of weeks. Other hardships run concurrently. “A lack of access to transportation creates additional barriers for individuals who are already at risk of homelessness if they can’t access benefits appointments or attend a legal hearing about an eviction notice, for example,” Hufnagel said.

 “A lack of access to transportation creates additional barriers for individuals who are already at risk of homelessness if they can’t access benefits appointments or attend a legal hearing about an eviction notice, for example,” Hufnagel said.

As we discussed in our recent blog post, Connecting People to Opportunity through Public Transit, a lack of transportation options often results in a reduced number or quality of job opportunities within reach, creating additional barriers to economic mobility. The same MCAH database also revealed that 31% of people who were homeless or at imminent risk of being homeless in the United States were working, but earning very low wages – with a lack of access to transportation to reach higher paying job opportunities as one possible cause.

Finally, homeless individuals or those at risk of homelessness face additional challenges due to the lack of programs and services available to individuals to assist them with transportation costs, which can comprise a large percentage of a family’s monthly expenses. Transportation costs vary based on location; the Michigan League for Public Policy’s Making Ends Meet in Michiganreport paints a picture of the costs for basic needs such as housing, child care, and personal transportation based on location. For example, a family of four in Washtenaw County should expect to spend about 12% of their income on transportation while a family in Arenac County would need to use 17% of their income to pay for transportation costs. These variations in cost by location are impacted by differences in car insurance premiums, availability of public transit, and proximity between employment and housing. Because transportation costs represent a significant portion of living expenses, homeless assistance programs and services could incorporate transportation assistance to prevent homelessness, similar to the way include food, housing, and medical assistance.

Inadequate transportation plays a key role in an individual’s risk of homelessness. Providing a reliable and accessible public transportation system can help to keep at-risk individuals connected with a means to make a living. Where public transportation is not available, providing assistance to at-risk motorists can accomplish the same goal. If you’re interested in learning more about homelessness in Michigan or finding out how you can get involved, visit the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness website.

Written by Liz Treutel, Trans4M Fellow

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