Humanity and Renewal at Miller Manor

By: Avalon Housing

“Not every story has a happy ending, … but the discoveries of science, the teachings of the heart, and the revelations of the soul all assure us that no human being is ever beyond redemption. The possibility of renewal exists so long as life exists. How to support that possibility in others and in ourselves is the ultimate question.”

-Gabor Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction

Each morning as I walk into work, M, an eight-year resident of Miller Manor, greets me while taking the trash out to the curb. Since spring of 2018, M has worked for Avalon in our Supported Employment program.  He comes back inside and details the list of Avalon properties he will visit that day to work on their gardens. He often tells me what group he will attend either at Miller Manor or out in the community.

I’ve heard neighbors of Miller Manor and community members alike question what goes on at Miller Manor. I often find that they have an inadequate perception of the lives and community that are built here.

Miller Manor is a public housing partnership between the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, who manages the property, and Avalon, who provides 24-hour front desk staff and support services to the residents.  Miller Manor is also home to our community’s most vulnerable individuals. Each resident wears a history of chronic homelessness and the medical or emotional trauma that often comes along with this history. Because of this, hardship is ever present at Miller Manor, but so is healing. To spend time in Miller Manor, you would witness a community that lives with these barriers and thrives through interdependence with one another. Interdependence can be defined as the mutual reliance between groups. Interdependent comes from the Latin words “inter” meaning among, between, and “dependere” meaning “to hang from”.  These relationships are not built from convenience or proximity. They are built from an understanding of and empathy for their neighbors’ experiences.

This interdependence is equally as present in the staff that works at Miller Manor. One morning, a tenant had fallen in his apartment. The front-desk staff assisted this individual, but realized she needed more help with this person. Dr. Ravi, our Packard Health primary care physician, was in our on-site clinic, and he was able to go to this individual’s room and provide care. He then discussed a safety plan with this resident’s support coordinator.   Within just minutes, wrap-around provider care has been established to support the possibility of renewal for this individual.

Through Avalon’s supported employment program,  Miller Manor tenants who are employed by Avalon cook and serve lunch twice a week.  As I heat up my lunch in the kitchen, I am surrounded by tenants sharing a meal that has been cooked for them.

To walk through the halls at Miller Manor, you would see paintings by several of the artists who live there. Miller Manor hosts a writing group, houses an art room that is open 24/7 and has recently opened a new music production studio. Through these artistic outlets, as well as peer support groups, Resident Council, and Smart Recovery groups, residents are able to build a greater sense of self and find healing. These groups build community, which can ease the transition of coming out of homelessness.

The first floor lobby at Miller Manor is a community space that has been home to arguments between residents who feel the weight of living in community. At the same time, I’ve also watched residents drink coffee together in the morning, exchange conversation, and watch television together. Through each exchange, hope is renewed, and the possibility for connection with others and with ourselves is strengthened.

There are lots of ways to get involved in Avalon’s community-building efforts.  Learn more here.

By Annie Hyrila, Outreach Team Lead