ARPA survey deadline looms for county

TRAVERSE CITY — Juliette Schultz, executive director of the Women’s Resource Center, has a project in mind she’d like to see funded by the $18.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act money Grand Traverse County received. 

The project would remodel the organization’s transitional house for women displaced by domestic abuse into single residential occupancy units. 

“I would love to see affordable housing,” Schultz said. “For us, we know that housing is one of the key barriers and issues for survivors of domestic assault. Right behind that would be funding for mental health, behavioral health and social services.”

Today is the last chance for those who live or own a business in Grand Traverse County to take a survey on how ARPA money should be spent. 

So far more than 1,800 people have responded to the survey, said Hannah Stachnik, marketing and communications specialist for Grand Traverse County. 

During and following the pandemic there was a substantial rise in the number of people needing help for a mental health issue, substance abuse and more, according to recent reports. 

“Our survivors are having to wait months and months to see a therapist and that’s not good when you’re in a crisis,” Schultz said. 

Several people who took the survey feel the same as Schultz, naming housing, mental health and childcare as the top things that need to be tackled in the county.

Cheryl Solowiej, of Long Lake Township, has two brothers with mental illness and has struggled with finding them a home and proper care for many years. It’s not just those with mental illness who are affected by the housing crisis, she said. It’s single mothers and others who can’t afford the high rents. 

“Housing is just crucial, like food and water,” Solowiej said. “If you’re going to pay top dollar for housing you’re not going to have money for your kids. Your single mothers can’t afford a decent place to live and decent childcare.”

The federal ARPA money is to be used to mitigate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities. A 15-member advisory committee, ARPAC, is made up of community leaders representing several sectors of the Grand Traverse community and four county administrators.

The group met a few times and named eight broad categories for spending the money, including workforce housing, mental and behavioral health services, public safety, childcare, infrastructure, small business and economic development, increasing the number of skilled workers, and stabilizing the health care system.

The survey will reveal what community members think are the most important priorities, as well as ideas for things that may not fall into the listed categories. 

There will also be several public input sessions on the ARPA funds in June or July, and in August there will be an application period for people and organizations to present their ideas to the county, as previously reported.

 

Projects will be approved by the county board in November.

 

Ryan Hannon, community engagement officer for Goodwill Northern Michigan, has years of experience with homeless people in the county. In taking the ARPA survey he named housing as his top priority and mental health No. 2.

 

“It’s devastating to watch the suffering people go through out there,” Hannon said. “We know the answer to homelessness is housing, but we can’t find enough units to get people off the streets.”

 

He said for those who struggle with mental illness, their issues are exacerbated while they’re experiencing homelessness. A home creates the foundation for healing to happen, he said.

 

“It’s hard to stabilize your mental health or reduce harm from substance abuse or even get sober if you don’t have a place to live,” Hannon said. 

 

The county is being helped through the process of spending ARPA dollars by Public Sector Consultants, hired late last year.

 

Ginger Kadlec, executive director of the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center, said there are a lot of good people on the ARPA committee and she commends them for seeking public input. 

 

Kadlec said many of the eight categories chosen as the most important by the committee are intertwined, especially housing, mental illness and childcare — her top three. 

 

The CAC has a new trauma assessment it has used for about a year for children who are 6 years old and older. 

 

“There are a huge number of youth that are experiencing suicidal ideation and it’s often the first time they’ve told anyone,” Kadlec said. “There’s so many critical needs right now.” 

 

Solowiej said that while she supports law enforcement in the county, she’s not sure they need ARPA money as they recently purchased a $260,000 armored vehicle she’s not sure they need. 

 

Another item not mentioned by those interviewed is a new senior center. Former Senior Center Friends president Robert Steadman said after four years of fighting to get a new center built he’s not confident any of the ARPA will be used for that purpose. 

 

Grand Traverse County board Chair Rob Hentschel and Commissioner Ron Clous have been named to a committee made up of city and county officials who will look at ways to fund the center.  

 

 

 

 


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