Emergency shelter shortage leaves homeless families with nowhere to go

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Collaborator: Rachael Schuit
Published: 02/27/2023, 4:13 PM
Edited: 02/28/2023, 6:16 PM

(KENT COUNTY, Mich.) There's a type of homelessness that might not be visible to most people: family homelessness. 

But Kate O'Keefe, the Vice President of Advancement for Family Promise in Grand Rapids, sees these families every day. 

O'Keefe says homelessness does not discriminate when it comes to families. 

"You would be surprised to know that there's families from East Grand Rapids, Rockford, Grand Rapids," said "O'Keefe. "It doesn't matter what zip code you live in. Homelessness is one step away for everyone. It could be a medical crisis. It could be a family breakup."

Family Promise works with shelters like Mel Trotter and church congregations to help families that need a place to stay. The number of families in need is greater than most people realize. 

"From September 2021 through September 2022, we turned away over 200 unique families," said O'Keefe. "We turned that many families away from shelter who presented as homeless." 

According to O'Keefe, an area the size of Kent County needs 90 emergency rooms for homeless families every night, but right now there's only 45. 

O'Keefe says family homelessness disproportionately impacts the Black community. 

Statistics from Housing Kent state that 72 percent of homeless families in Kent County are African American, even though African Americans are only 12 percent of the county population. 

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O'Keefe says when dealing with family homelessness, the impact of children must be addressed. 

The average of children that Family Promise of Grand Rapids works with is six years old.

O'Keefe says they make sure the children get food, medical care, and help with their education. 

"How do we improve all outcomes for that child not just schooling but their health, like play kids need to play," said O'Keefe. "How are we making sure that even in our shelters and as children are moving home who can they connect with. Where is their community." 

O'Keefe says community is one component of solving the problem, but they can't do it alone, especially when it comes to short-term and long-term housing solutions. 

Looking at zoning regulations is one place to start. 

"We have families who will calls us and say we've got a small building on our property that we'd love to change into housing," said O'Keefe. "We just need to keep looking at innovative and creative ways to bring back more housing for families."

In the coming months, VNN Michigan will look more deeply at the impact of family homelessness in the Kent County area.


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