Detroit — City leaders on Wednesday launched an initiative aimed at connecting Detroit’s most impoverished residents to resources to keep them housed, working and current on utility and water bills. 

Detroit Community Health Corps was created in June by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who tasked new Deputy Mayor Conrad Mallett with heading up the effort that will send community health care workers and peer counselors door-to-door to families in need.

The program, initially being funded with $3.5 million in federal coronavirus relief dollars, will begin with a targeted group of 160 families identified by Detroit’s housing and water departments, officials said during a Wednesday news conference at Public Safety Headquarters downtown. 

“There’s not an awareness of the support available,” Mallett said. “What we want to do with this particular program is go out to where those persons are and find them, rather than them having to come and find us.”

Once Detroit’s City Council approves the plan, the city, through its Detroit at Work program, will begin hiring an initial team of about 20 staff members and start reaching out to households in October. 

More than 36% of Detroiters, Mallett noted, live below the poverty line and the COVID-19 crisis has further isolated them from support services. 

Duggan said before now, there hasn’t been a centralized place for Detroiters to seek help. 

“There was no means of just saying from a family standpoint, ‘what do you need?,'” he said.

The Community Health Corps, to be headed by former Neighborhood Services Organization president and CEO Sheilah Clay, will bring on licensed social workers, nurses and community health workers to build a team of case managers and peer counselors to work with individuals and families.

If the program is successful, it’s expected to expand next year, Duggan added. 

Under the pilot, Community Health Corp workers will address barriers to employment and assess resident skill sets for job training and employment opportunities.

“We won’t refer you to a training program and hope things work out,” said Nicole Sherard-Freeman, the city’s executive director of workforce development. “We will stay in the trenches with you until you get to the point where you want to be.”

Mallett said that the program will seek to create long-term relations between the team and clients. 

“We recognize that trust is in fact going to be the foundation of our success,” he said. 

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