Homelessness in Grand Rapids Requires Short and Long-Term Approach

The Steelcase Foundation recently awarded several grants to prevent and respond to homelessness in the Grand Rapids area. In the short-term, response strategies are needed to address immediate community needs as a record number of families experience homelessness. In the long-term, prevention efforts help to ensure that fewer people become homeless in the first place.

The Root Causes of Homelessness Are Complex

  • The community has a shortage of affordable housing. Rent in Grand Rapids increased by 29 percent between 2007 and 2016 (Trulia Market Trends 2018).
  • Many employees are not paid a living wage. About 80 percent of adults in families experiencing homelessness locally are working full-time.

The Scope of the Problem

  • In Kent County in 2018 more than 10,000 people were identified as homeless or in imminent risk of homelessness.
  • A disproportionate share of that number are persons of color.
  • Nearly one-third were children under 18.

Prevention: City of Grand Rapids, Eviction Prevention ($150,000 over three years)

The Steelcase Foundation awarded funding to the City of Grand Rapids in October 2017 to support a three-year eviction prevention pilot program that helps tenants and landlords resolve eviction while avoiding formal judgement; the program launched in January 2018.

The goal is to decrease the number of evictions for low-income families, resulting in housing and family stability, and decreased use of the community’s emergency response system. Dismissed cases result in no eviction judgement, preserving the tenant’s credit rating and improving long-term stability.

In the first 9 months of the program, 110 evictions were prevented. This resulted in 338 people (158 adults and 180 children) remaining stably housed.

As the program becomes better known, more landlords are beginning to understand how the process works, and partners hope to expand to more courtrooms and judges.

Prevention: Grand Rapids Urban League, Shelter Diversion Pilot ($50,000 over one year)

Spearheaded by a collaboration of 12 local organizations, the Steelcase Foundation awarded funding to Grand Rapids Urban League in October 2017 for this pilot program. When families seek emergency shelter, this program helps preserve their current housing situation or identify alternative safe housing without the family entering the emergency shelter system. The first year of the pilot program was successful:

  • 255 families (including more than 500 children) were diverted from emergency shelter.
  • Because resources are more acutely targeted and intervention is provided earlier in families’ homelessness crisis, the program is a significant cost-savings for the community. The overall cost per family is $750, compared to $4,000 per family for emergency shelter.
  • Of the families served, only 5 percent re-entered the shelter system within 30 days of receiving services, indicating the program is successful.

Prevention: KConnect, Community Plan for Housing Insecurity & Homelessness ($10,000)

In October 2018, the Steelcase Foundation awarded KConnect $10,000 in support of its efforts to convene homeless providers in Kent County. This initiative emerged after several local nonprofits expressed concern that the current model disproportionately allowed federal funding to shape the way community resources are invested. Leveraging its reputation as a neutral facilitator, KConnect is implementing a cross-sector engagement process to create a comprehensive community plan to address housing insecurity and homelessness in Kent County.

Response: Heart of West Michigan United Way, Fulton Manor ($100,000 over one year)

In April 2019, the Steelcase Foundation awarded funding to a collaborative project that addresses the lack of emergency shelter space for families in the community. Led by Family Promise of Grand Rapids, this effort repurposes Holland Home’s Fulton Manor facility into an emergency family shelter for one year.

While the community’s diversion services have proven successful, emergency shelter demand increased faster than the community’s ability to increase services. Families were being placed in short-term motel rooms for shelter, which is an extremely costly solution and is not sustainable.

Fulton Manor has the capacity to serve up to 70 families (248 people) per night in single-family apartment units.

The use of this space for the 2019 calendar year provides a short-term solution to family homelessness as the Family Homelessness Taskforce identifies long-term resources to bolster family shelter capacity in Kent County.

These grants collectively support a comprehensive approach to housing insecurity and homelessness in West Michigan.