Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency programs.

Numerous assistance programs, with a focus on housing needs, are addressed by the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency. The agency works to prevent homelessness and ensure people, children, and seniors have the nutrition they need. However, all of this is provided along with self-sufficiency, and the non-profit will almost always require this type of participation from any applicants.

The main resources from the organization are below. Hundreds of people from Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren receive help in one form of another every month, however many applicants do need to be turned away due to limited resources and funding levels. Call them for more details.

Currently homeless can look into Continuum of Care. This has been set up as a long-range plan offering the low income homeless with assistance and it is community based. It offers homeless persons the chance of becoming self-sufficient and was developed following a thorough assessment of the needs of the region.

It is recommended by HUD, also known as the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development, as being a strategic, along with comprehensive approach, to support the homelessness. It provides services designed to meet the needs of the struggling, along with steps to putting an end to homelessness and preventing a return to it.

Shelter and transitional housing is part of the SMCAA Decatur Family Shelter. It can be contacted on 269-445-3831 or 877-474-625. The center does not provide accommodation for single men, but vouchers are available.

Another option is the Rural Homeless Initiative. This offers two units in Cassopolis Michigan that provides assistance for low income families and may offer up to 90 day emergency housing.

There is also an emergency shelter for children and women only. The contact number is 269-925-113. The Safe Shelter is for victims of severe domestic violence throughout the Michigan state and they can be contacted on 269-983-4275. The Salvation Army in Benton Harbor may also provide free motel vouchers or funds for rent.




Homeowners looking for help in saving money on heating bills may want to take a look at the home energy conservation program, known as Weatherization. This is offered free of charge to residents of Cass and other counties in Michigan. This program is funded by the US Department of Energy Michigan Department of Human Services. It provides ways of saving energy to families and it could help families to bring down their heating costs by around 20% on average. Services offered by weatherization could include the insulation of attics and walls, installation of smoke detectors and extra foundation insulation. This and more will go towards the homeowner saving money on their heating bills.

Cash payments for an emergency and basic needs may be offered. Under this category falls such expenses as electric/gas bills that have not been paid, deposits, or rent. More limited will be funds for medical needs or migrant help with transportation. Other emergency aid is Migrant Services, food pantries and groceries for qualified individuals and families at sites throughout the tri-county area, Supportive Housing Program, and more.

Senior citizens can make use of resources in the counties of Van Buren and other areas. Programs offer free supplemental foods with the aim of promoting good health in senior citizens as well as also children and infants. To be eligible you will need to be over 60 and be income-eligible or be under the age of 6 and can’t be currently the WIC program. In the tri-county area the main programs are Commodity Supplement Food Program (CSFP), Temporary Emergency Food Assistance (TEFAP) and there are of course local pantries

Homeowners needing help in existing poverty and improving their condition may wish to take part in Financial Management and budgeting classes. These are available to anyone who receives a loan product from the Michigan State housing Development Authority (MSHDA). The classes run in a series, and, among other things, provide education on being a financially responsible homeowner. Topics include Budgeting, debt reduction, choosing a home/home purchase process, long term planning including saving and investing, basic financial maintenance and taxes.

There are Homebuyer Education classes organized by Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency (SMCAA). These classes are aimed at first time homebuyers and provide an understanding of what to expect when buying property for the first time. These are spread out over four two-hour classes, offering help and advice to prepare for becoming a homeowner. The classes include topics such as mortgages, budgeting, saving money, insurance and panning over the long term, preventing foreclosure, predatory lending and some basic financial and home maintenance.





In Van Buren, Cass and Berrien counties, struggling homeowners can get in touch with the Housing Rehab Department. They may have funds or loans to make home improvements.

A homeowner rehabilitation loan, if approved by Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency, can help homeowners to make improvements to their property. These funds come with no payments due on a monthly basis and they are interest free. They can be used for single-family homes.

The financing works as an interest free loan which is paid back when the property is sold or should the title be transferred. This provides time and flexibility to the beneficiarry. These zero percent loans are available in all of the three counties thanks to the MSHDA County Allocation Program. Note they will require a mortgage and/or a lien on the property and should a project be over the amount of $2,500 a note and mortgage needs to be signed. Clients can use the loan to ensure their home meets the Uniform Physical Condition Standards of single-family homes.

When applying, your taxes and insurance must be up to date. Also, those seeking help need to live in the home and have been living there for at least 6 months to qualify.

Another SMCAA program is intended for minor emergency repairs, with funding from the County. Any grants paid out is given based on priority by the type of need, with sanitation and water emergencies taking first priority, electricity and furnace problems following and then such as installation of handicap ramps.

The Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency is based at 185 E. Main Street, Suite 200 in Benton Harbor, MI 49022-4432. Phone (269) 925-9077.




By Jon McNamara

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