GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — According to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, anywhere from 55,000 to 60,000 people are experiencing homelessness each year. For the ones in Kent County this year they may have a difficult time finding shelter space even if it’s just for one night.
“Shelter capacity is getting close, pretty much right up to capacity right now for people experiencing homelessness,” said Kelly Rose, chief housing solution officer with MSHDA, during a Zoom interview on Monday.
Family Promise, an organization dedicated to helping families overcome homelessness, said max capacity has been reached a few times this summer.
“There’s more than what we see here coming to our front door,” said CEO Cheryl Shuch during a phone interview. “We have families who are literally homeless in the community. We have families who are losing their double-up shelter spaces that they’ve been in, in the days to come and imminent weeks.”
Shuch added that hotels may not be an option for much longer.
“The mass hotel non-congregant sheltering that we’ve been doing during COVID will be drawing down,” Shuch said. “We will always have some overflow hotel capacity for the community but it will be limited. We had that pre-COVID.”
Shuch said part of the reason behind the current dilemma is due to other crises that have been going on for years like the lack affordable housing and low-paying jobs.
“[Grand Rapids] has become a great place to be but a long with that comes the housing crutch and that’s been exacerbated by COVID,” Shuch said. “We’ve all seen the housing costs and the housing availability really tighten and get expensive over this last year. So, it’s made it even more difficult for our families who are experiencing homelessness now.”
Rose said that hotels are only a temporary fix. However, of the $622,000,000 in federal funds allocated to the state to combat homelessness, a portion of that is for specifically for Kent County.
“There’s a couple different programs that pay for hotels stays and one of those programs is the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance program that has ample funding in Kent County,” Rose said. “So, over $37,000,000 in funding right now is allocated to Kent County.”
There’s other resources and grants, Rose said. However, the ultimate goal would be to fix the housing crisis as whole.
“The real story here I would say is not about shelter,” Shuch said. “Yes, we need to have some more shelter capacity in our community but the real story is that as a community we have to make a huge investment and prioritize figuring out our housing situation.”
Rose added that building affordable housing from the ground up and renovating old buildings is still in the works. MSHDA plans to use part of the funds from the American Rescue Plan to achieve that goal however that's a few years away.
As for right now, tackling the housing crisis is necessary she said.
“We absolutely need more affordable housing,” Rose said. “That is the longterm solution towards this goal and to get people at higher wage jobs of having a little bit more income that can support that higher rental amount that might be all that’s available in the community right now.”
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