Children have become the hidden face of homelessness in Kent County

Local agency helping homeless children

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - According to the most recent data, roughly 67,000 people in the state of Michigan are homeless. That is a 9% decline, statewide, over a two period. However, in Kent County, the fight continues to decrease homelessness in of our most vulnerable populations.

"We know that typically when people think about homelessness, they think of that single individual. We don't always think of a family with children," said Kate O'Keefe, the community relations and development manager for Family Promise of Grand Rapids.

O'Keefe says there are upwards of 3,000 homeless children in Kent County. Family Promise of Grand Rapids is kicking off a new campaign to raise awareness, provide support and bring those numbers down. They have placed between 50 and 70 life-sized cardboard cutouts throughout Grand Rapids. Each one, shows a child holding a sign with startling statistics.

"Our goal with this campaign is to really bring it to the forefront of our commuters minds as they are on their way to work," said O'Keefe. "They will be seeing life-sized cutouts of a child saying 'hey I didn't have a place to sleep last night.' We are hoping that this campaign will raise awareness in our community and really motivate people to take action."

Family Promise of Grand Rapids provides emergency shelter for children and families. More than 80% of the families in the emergency shelters are employed. Yet, family homelessness is the fastest growing homeless population. O'Keefe says this is a symptom of a much bigger problem.

"The average age of the kiddos that walk through our door are 5-years-old and younger. So, we know that homelessness can really disrupt that little body and brain that is developing," O'Keefe said. "We hope to change the stereotype of what homelessness looks like.

"So, as a community, we can make a difference in the lives of children and families who live and work in our community, but don't have a place to call home."

Family Promise of Grand Rapids is one of more than 200 affiliates nationwide. Since 1988, Family Promise has collectively helped more than 750,000 families.

For more information about Family Promise of Grand Rapids, visit their website www.familypromisegr.org

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