GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Homelessness may seem invisible in West Michigan, but Kate O’Keefe with Family Promise of Grand Rapids says the problem is real – and the fastest growing group it’s impacting is families that may look a lot like yours.
“It’s families. It’s hard-working families with kiddos. And that is the face of homelessness right now,” she added.
O’Keefe says the average homeless child in West Michigan is 7 years or younger.
She says with community emergency shelters full, families are struggling to figure out what to do and where to stay.
“Our families tell us, they’ll come in and say, ‘Listen, in the last ten days I slept on eight different couches with my kids. They are trying so hard just to find a safe place to stay,” said O’Keefe.
“We have to do better,” she added.
That’s where Family Promise of Grand Rapids comes in – providing emergency shelter and basic needs for families until they can find them a permanent home.
The organization says it’s found a permanent place for 90 percent of the families it’s served, and 90 percent of them were still living in their home a year later.
“We get those families home and we walk alongside them to make sure they don’t become homeless again. Sustainability – we do not want those kids having to go through that again,” said O’Keefe.
Now Family Promise of Grand Rapids is turning its mission into a fun opportunity for the rest of the community, with Sunday’s inaugural Family Frolic at the Zoo.
“We often hear from the community, ‘What can we do? What can my family and I do?’ And this is a great event,” said O’Keefe.
Visitors to John Ball Zoo can enjoy frozen yogurt, prizes, animals and a scavenger hunt all while knowing they’re helping Family Promise of Grand Rapids support homeless families.
O’Keefe says the event also gives parents an opportunity: “You can actually talk to your kids in a really safe way about what homelessness is at this event.”
Family Frolic at the Zoo runs from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults; children ages 16 and younger are free.
Up to $20,000 in proceeds from the event will be matched by donors and sponsors, including Eastbrook Homes and Vos Glass.