Homelessness in Schools and Society: U of M and Avalon

What do academic success and homelessness have in common? How can Supportive Housing services and educators help increase the academic success of children who have experienced homelessness? Avalon Housing’s Family and Youth Services’ Youth Programming staff and University of Michigan School of Education professors Simona Goldin and Debi Khasnabis have been hard at work over the last 18 months planning a course that looks at these and other questions. The result of our efforts is “Homelessness in Schools and Society”, a U of M class that launched this January. In this course, students will work closely with our Youth Program staff to take a hard look at the intersection of education and poverty, and how we can work together with our local public schools and parents to support Avalon’s youth.

IMG_2703 (1)

Ann Arbor Public Schools recognizes the importance of this work and was eager to get on board with our endeavor.  Students from the class have already spent time at STEAM and Eberwhite Elementary schools, observing teachers and kids to gain a better understanding of the real-life, practical work of teaching and learning in public schools. Now, they will spend eight weeks working directly with our Youth Program staff in Avalon Housing’s two after school programs, at our Carrot Way and Pauline Boulevard community centers.  The students will observe the ways that Avalon Housing serves and supports children and their communities, while spending time in class learning about the effects of homelessness on children and the way it impacts their learning.

IMG_2705 (1)

Students will also focus on in-depth projects addressing authentic problems our residents may face, across a number of different areas: schooling, community support, advocacy, law and policy. We are grateful to have our partners at the University of Michigan’s Family Law Clinic working with us as well, to educate students on various legal and child welfare-related barriers that low income families often face.

Through these experiences, the students will develop understandings of the linkages between work being done in Avalon’s youth programs and in public schools, as well as opportunities for substantive cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional work that can support the needs of our kids. At the end of the semester, students will do presentations to both Avalon and AAPS staff on what they have learned, where they see our greatest strengths in our collaborations and where they see opportunities for growth.  They’ll also share their ideas about how Avalon and the public school systems can collaborate and learn from each other to create a strong support system that moves seamlessly from our schools to our community centers.

If you’d like to learn more about Avalon’s partnership with U of M’s School of Education, or how you can support Avalon’s efforts to end homelessness, please contact us at info@avalonhousing.org.

By Lauren Velez, Family and Youth Services Team Leader



Posted in After School Program, Homelessness, Supportive Housing | Leave a comment

Reflections on ubuntu at Avalon

Stop by Avalon Property Management some time and you’re likely to hear a funny word come up in conversation:  ubuntu. Ubuntu is something we talk a lot about at our meetings; we even had t-shirts made with an ubuntu slogan on them (“I am because We are!”). Ubuntu is a philosophy with roots in South Africa, and in its essence, it means that we’re all connected to one another. So why do we talk about it so much in Property Management?

Avalon's Property Management team

Avalon’s Property Management team

Let me tell you a story.  A call came in that a resident in one of my properties was not well. I arrived at the house shortly ahead of the ambulance, and I found one man supporting another on the stairway just inside the front door. The resident who wasn’t well had been trying to make it down the stairs, but he was dizzy and trembling and he only made it part way. His housemate was keeping him steady and wiping the sweat from his face while they waited for help. When the EMTs showed up and saw how these two guys were wedged in the stairs, with one able-bodied dude supporting his housemate, they asked if the one could help the other make it to the bottom. “I’ll carry him to your ambulance if you need me to,” he responded. It was a simple, beautiful moment. That’s ubuntu in action.

One of the things about these two guys is that they haven’t always gotten along. They often still don’t, to be honest. Being in community is hard work; for these two, it’s sometimes grueling. But on Thanksgiving, the one who had been ill that day several months before roasted a turkey for the whole house. That’s ubuntu, too.

Desmond Tutu says that ubuntu is the awareness that “my humanity is inextricably bound up in yours.”

Ubuntu is not something that Property Managers or Support Coordinators deliver to the apartments and communities we’re connected to. It is already there. Our work is to notice it, and, in a fashion, to name it. When you look closely, you realize that Avalon is a network of people whose lives are charged with the spirit of ubuntu. This is as true for staff as it is for our residents. It is realizing that Property Managers and Support Coordinators are absolutely reliant on another; that Maintenance is no less essential than Community Builders; that the accountants, the developers, the communications staff… we’re all interdependent on one another. And most essentially, we are all here because of the residents whom we have the privilege to walk beside in our properties and scattered-sites. In and through them, the inter-dimensionality of our web is formed and sustained.

But if we’re being candid, then we have to confess that in our busyness, we sometimes overlook our intrinsic mutuality. We get lulled into thinking that because we sign leases with folks, that it means being a landlord is what this work is about. Or we think because someone is a client, that healthy boundaries are the last word on those relationships. Thank goodness it isn’t so. The reality is far richer and more complex!

One principle of permanent supportive housing is that everyone with an apartment is a lease-holder. But ubuntu says that a lease can’t do the work of connecting us to one another. Not really. It’s our humanity that does. And I need everyone in the Avalon community to teach me what that looks like, day-in and day-out. It might be a guy holding a trembling housemate on a narrow stairwell. Or it might be a social worker holding the hand of a resident as he passes gently away, his beloved Miles Davis playing on a cell phone on the pillow by his head. I’ve seen that, too.

Ubuntu blog, hands holding tree

Source: Living Ubuntu Blog

Of course, not every day is strung together with these luminous moments. How easily we get lost in the minutiae on the one hand, and the next crisis about to knock the wind out of us, on the other! I admit, on those days, I’m liable to forget this ubuntu business. I may not even want to hear about it. Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche movement, says that true community comes about when we stop hiding our insecurities, and when we give up trying to prove our worth to each other. So I’m beginning to think that it’s when I’m feeling most disconnected, most worn down, that I’m in the best possible place to experience what ubuntu is truly about. Because when I forget, there’s always a resident or coworker to remind me. They needn’t have ever heard this funny word. Because it happens here. This place is charged with it. If you have any connection to Avalon whatsoever, then you know what ubuntu is. And if you forget, don’t worry. I’ll remind you. That’s ubuntu.

By Joel Barson

Posted in Avalon Values, Resources, Supportive Housing | Leave a comment

Big House 5K Run – Join Avalon!

Avalon is thrilled to be a race beneficiary of the 2017 Big House 5K Run! This year’s run, sponsored by Toyota, will be held on Sunday, April 9.  The race starts at 8:30 am at Schembechler Hall and ends at the University of Michigan’s Big House stadium.

Big House 5K Run

In 2016, $115,000 was donated to six local, non-profit beneficiaries of the race.  Avalon looks forward to partnering with U of M and engaging the Avalon community to raise awareness of our cause of ending homelessness in Washtenaw County.

All Avalon friends and family can participate in the Big House 5K!  Whether you’d like to run or walk, make a donation or volunteer with us during the event, we hope to see you on April 9.

For more information and registration, visit:


To make a donation, visit:


You can also download a 2017-Big-House-5K-Flier.

Check in with us on Facebook and on our website during the upcoming weeks for updates about the race and opportunities for volunteering with Avalon at the event.  GO BLUE and GO AVALON!

Posted in Homelessness, In the News, Supportive Housing, Volunteering | Leave a comment

Employment and Volunteer Opportunities

Are you interested in getting involved with a passionate and dedicated team working to end homelessness in our community? Avalon is currently accepting employment applications and volunteer orientation reservations for our Winter 2017 programming.

Pauline ASP April 15Volunteer with our After School Program
Avalon’s After School Program needs just 1.5 hours of your time per week to help make a real difference in the education of Avalon youth who face a number of challenges as a result of experiencing homelessness.
That’s where you come in!

Our After School Program meets on the following days:

  • Monday – Thursday from 3:30-5:00pm at 31 Carrot Way Apartments
  • Monday – Thursday from 4:00-5:30pm at 1500 Pauline Apartments
  • Tuesdays & Thursdays from 4:00-5:30pm at 701 Miller Apartments

To join our Winter 2017 Volunteer Orientation on January 10th contact Andrea at awilkerson@avalonhousing.org to reserve your spot today!

Employment Opportunities with Avalon Housing
To apply for any of Avalon’s open positions listed below, please send a resume, cover letter, and professional references to: jobs@avalonhousing.org

Or mail to:
Avalon Housing
Attn: Personnel
1327 Jones Drive, Suite 102
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

No phone calls please.

Posted in Employment, Volunteering | Leave a comment

Thankful for Strong Community Support

tenant-family-sits-together-at-pauline-community-center-dinner-copy2We are so thankful for the amazing outpouring of community support around Giving Tuesday this year. Your support of Avalon Housing makes our work possible. With your help, Avalon provides affordable housing and comprehensive support services for members of our community who struggle with homelessness and physical and behavioral health problems.
In 2016, Avalon has welcomed over 70 new households into our supportive housing community. We are proud to now be supporting a total of 654 people in their efforts to move beyond homelessness and achieve long term stability. Our case managers have spent hours in the emergency room, at court, and even in the delivery room, with people who have no one else to accompany them.
We make this commitment because we know that our advocacy and support can make the difference between stability and a return to homelessness.   Thank you for your inspiring commitment to practicing radical acceptance of the most vulnerable in our community.
Posted in Giving Tuesday, Resources, Supportive Housing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Avalon’s Aubrey Patino talks with Michigan Radio

Avalon’s Associate Director of Services, Aubrey Patino, talks with Michigan Radio about Avalon’s role in the FUSE (Frequent Users Systems Engagement) Initiative.  She also explains our housing-first approach. In Aubrey’s words, housing-first “treats housing as a basic human right, not a reward for clinical success” to support those who frequently utilize emergency health systems, are homeless and have chronic health conditions.

You can hear her full interview here.



Posted in In the News, Resources, Supportive Housing | Leave a comment

Home for Good Harvest Dinner

Thank you to all of the wonderful Avalon supporters who came out and supported the Home for Good Harvest Dinner this year. We had an amazing time hearing from the Youth Leadership Program, sharing a delicious meal, and celebrating the community’s work to end homelessness!


Home for Good, Edible Avalon

Rachel Nisch, Edible Avalon Coordinator, with Youth Leadership Program participants

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Save the Date for Avalon Housing’s Harvest Dinner

Please Join Us…
…For our annual Home for Good Harvest Dinner. Hear exciting updates from Avalon, catch up with good friends, and experience a wonderful meal together!

Save the Date 1st Page Only
Thursday, October 22nd 6:30pm
Zingerman’s Cornman Farms
8540 Island Lake Road
Dexter, MI 48130

Tickets are $120 per person​ – Click here to reserve your seat!

If you’d like to purchase more than 4 tickets or have any questions regarding this event, please contact Kathy Bartson at 734.663.5858


Posted in Edible Avalon, Home for Good Event, Window On Avalon | Leave a comment

Paid Summer Internship Opportunity

Paid Summer Internship Opportunity

Intern with SPY kids








Are you looking to gain experience, skills and build up your resume this summer? Avalon Housing has an opening for a paid internship experience with our Summer Program for Youth. This position is approximately 16 hours per week (Monday through Thursday from 12-4PM), based out of our Pauline Blvd Community Center. You will have an opportunity to gain experience and knowledge around working with youth and families living in Permanent Supportive Housing, community building and program planning, and inter-agency collaboration. Core responsibilities will include helping plan and execute activities related to the Summer Program, working directly with youth attending the program, collaborating with Community Organizer and other Avalon staff/interns, and helping run the Summer Food program we offer through Food Gatherers.

If interested, please contact: Andrea at awilkerson@avalonhousing.org

Posted in Homelessness, In the News, Supportive Housing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Update on the Transatlantic Practice Exchange

The following is an excerpt from Aubrey’s Blog on her participation in the Transatlantic Practice Exchange. Consider reading more about her adventure in the UK on her full site at http://transatlanticpracticeexchange2014.blogspot.co.uk/

When I asked how many people are experiencing homelessness in Cambridge, I was told 9. Last I knew there were roughly 510 people experiencing homelessness in my community, Ann Arbor, MI, which is comparable in size.

Why the discrepancy? Cambridge is only counting those who are “rough sleeping” meaning everyone who is in temporary accommodation is not captured in this number. Ann Arbor is counting those defined as “literally homeless.” Cambridge puts a huge emphasis on ending “rough sleeping.” Ann Arbor has allocated most of resources away from temporary shelter or transitional housing and into permanent housing solutions.

There is an emphasis on placing people into temporary accommodations here – typically with a high level of support (mostly what are referred to as hostels) and “training” (the term used is “training flats”). During my visit I’ve seen temporary accommodations that have time limitations anywhere from 28 days to 5 years.

They are very service rich accommodations that look to prepare someone for what they call a “positive move-on” which is either yet another temporary accommodation with a lower degree of support or their own tenancy. In US terms, it’s similar to transitional housing or service rich non mission style shelters.

So, what’s the rub? From my perspective, the emphasis in the UK is more on getting people off the direct streets as quickly as possible and putting an end to “rough sleeping.” In the US, the emphasis is on getting people directly into housing as quickly as possible and ending “homelessness.”

In the US we use a “housing first” approach. Per DESC, Housing First is based on two core convictions:

1. Housing is a basic human right, not a reward for clinical success, and
2. Once the chaos of homelessness is eliminated from a person’s life, clinical and social stabilization occur faster and are more enduring

Housing First Principles:

1. Move people into housing directly from streets and shelters without preconditions of treatment acceptance or compliance.
2. The provider is obligated to bring robust support services to the housing. These services are predicated on assertive engagement, not coercion.
3. Continued tenancy is not dependent on participation in services.
4. Units targeted to most disabled and vulnerable homeless members of the community.
5. Embraces harm reduction approach to addictions rather than mandating abstinence. At the same time, the provider must be prepared to support resident commitments to recovery.
6. Residents must have leases and tenant protections under the law.
7. Can be implemented as either a project-based or scattered site model.

The temporary accommodations here in the UK do a really good job of getting people off the streets, albeit often temporarily. The pathway to housing in the UK seems long and arduous and potentially destabilizing. However, walking around London, Cambridge, and Norwich, I’ve seen very few people who appear to be “rough sleeping.” Their data indicates the same. They have invested so much into temporary accommodations that they have really put the concept of “No Second Night Out” into practice.

In the US, we’ve disinvested in temporary accommodations with an emphasis on seeing direct access to housing as the best investment we can make. This is one contributing factor for the amount of “literally homeless” individuals visible on the streets in the US. However, the root cause is universal – the absence of a place to call “home.””

Posted in Homelessness, In the News, Supportive Housing, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment