Homelessness is increasing significantly in our community and we're seeing it in places and in numbers we have not seen before...
How can we come together as a community to make an impact quickly?
We have received many phone calls and letters from individuals and business owners stating that it appears there is a recent significant increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness who are on the streets day and night, and asking what can be done. The truth is in Grand Rapids, Kent County, and surrounding areas, homelessness is exponentially increasing in locations we have never seen before. This, unfortunately, includes our entire country—so many cities in the U.S. are seeing homelessness numbers rise sharply more than ever before. We are aware of this and are working fervently with the City of GR, businesses, and other local organizations in town to help individuals and families leave homelessness for good.
Why is homelessness increasing in our area?
We are seeing four main reasons that can be attributed to the increase in individuals who are experiencing homelessness:
- COVID-19—Homelessness was on the rise well before COVID-19; yet in the last 4-6 months, it has significantly accelerated. This is, in large part, due to lost jobs and the inability to afford housing and living expenses as a result. Additionally, as shelters have needed to follow social distancing guidelines and other CDC guidelines to contain the spread of the virus, there are fewer shelter beds and day space available for those in greatest need.
- Lack of affordable housing in our community
- Lack of living wages—As housing remains scarce, the price of rent has skyrocketed in recent years, especially for housing along the bus line which is so critical for many people to get to work. Entry-level and low paying jobs do not provide the wages necessary for many of our neighbors to live in housing near bus lines.
- Mental health assistance and availability—We have wonderful organizations and mental health care providers in our region. We are blessed. Yet there are not enough resources to meet the need for those living on the street and uninsured.
Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, shared with us during his visit to Mel Trotter Ministries last week that “faith-based organizations stand in a unique position to be able to assist and offer solutions to homelessness, but it doesn’t fall on just one agency or the nonprofit sector. The public and private sectors can partner with the government in caring for our most vulnerable men, women, and children.” Together, we can demonstrate true compassion as we help people, one life at a time, overcome homelessness.
Developing personal relationships with the vulnerable population we serve and walking forward with them is the best way to help individuals on their road out of homelessness and into housing—but not everyone makes it to our doors. These are the folks we are all seeing living on the streets and in door fronts. We understand it takes time to build trust and that we are called to love each and every individual we come across, period. If we can be a familiar and consistent face, persistently demonstrating love and compassion, we hope we will be able to help individuals, both outside and inside our walls, overcome their homelessness. In addition to the services we provide within our shelter and in transitional housing units, this year we launched Outreach Teams to begin reaching out to those who do not come to our doors.
Most recently our team has been working with two male individuals who were living in an encampment. They told our staff and volunteers that every day, they were each drinking two large bottles of alcohol. One day they looked at our Outreach Team and said, “We are ready to get off the streets. We want to stop drinking and change our lives, will you help us?” They entered our detox program that day and are now in our recovery program and have been sober for 30 days!