Sep 6, 2022 - News

Detroit's Community Health Corps forges forward

Illustration of a Rubik's cube in the shape of a house.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

An almost two-year-old program that set out to "revolutionize" how Detroit assists struggling residents has served nearly 5,000 people so far.

Why it matters: There have been a lot of piecemeal efforts to help low-income Detroiters succeed in a city that's in an eviction crisis and has a 33% poverty rate.

  • The Community Health Corps program aims for a more holistic approach: Identify a family and connect them to whatever resources they need — whether that's Meijer gift cards, helping to pay utilities, or finding housing or jobs.

The latest: The corps has a new executive director as of last month, Gregory Anderson, previously CHC's deputy director of administrative services.

How it works: The corps enlists households mostly through referrals from city departments, according to Anderson. It takes Detroit residents "living significantly below the federal poverty line whose basic needs were further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic," according to an ARPA performance report.

  • It assigns staff to help clients navigate services offered by 122 partner organizations. Plus, it can use its own funding if clients aren't eligible for outside assistance.
  • Of note: Around 212,000 Detroiters lived under the poverty threshold — an income of $26,200 for a family of four — as of 2020, according to Census estimates.

By the numbers: The city created CHC in 2020 with $1.4 million in federal COVID-19 recovery dollars. CHC then got $15 million last year through the city's American Rescue Plan Act funds. Plus there's $5.2 million from the CDC Foundation.

  • The big ARPA boost was used to increase employee count to 52 from 32.
  • The program has served 4,800 residents so far and is on track for 14,000 over its three-year funding time frame for the ARPA dollars, Anderson tells Axios.
  • Demand has been high, with CHC at one point accumulating a nearly 600-person waitlist.

What they're saying: "When we think about all the programs that exist to support folks in Detroit, they're like the bricks, but oftentimes people fall through the cracks … so (this program is) the cement between the bricks," Abdul El-Sayed, a public health expert and former Detroit health director, tells Axios.

Zoom in: Community services provider Wayne Metro and CHC are in discussions to make permanent a housing relocation pilot project serving people who are displaced, Michele Robinson, Wayne Metro's executive director of green and healthy homes, tells Axios.

Reality check: CHC helps individuals, but that doesn't necessarily address "the root causes of poverty and racism in Detroit," Peter Hammer, a civil rights center director at Wayne State and expert on local economic and social issues, tells Axios.

Of note: Those interested in requesting assistance from CHC are advised to contact their district manager.

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