Homeless families told to leave hotels in GR

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Dozens of homeless families have checked out of the Grand Rapids hotels they had been calling home.

Frantic moms started calling 24 Hour News 8 earlier this week after caseworkers informed them they had to leave by Friday.

“They just told me it was unforeseen circumstances,” said a mom of seven children who had been staying at one hotel since mid-September. “(They said) the funding was ending so pretty much had to find somewhere to go.”

24 Hour News 8 found five homeless families scrambling to pack their bags before noon checkout Friday at Hawthorn Suites on the East Beltline, north of 28th Street.

“It’s just really stressful,” said one mom of 11 year old twin boys. “Just to think, ‘where are we going to go?’ If I didn’t need help, I wouldn’t be here.”

Another mom had been staying at the hotel for a month with her eight children, ages 8 months through 11 years.

“Housing in Grand Rapids is so unfair because they have to realize that it’s a lot of people out here struggling that can’t afford this high rent,” she said.

The 29-year-old mom says she’s been trying to find stable shelter ever since she moved to Grand Rapids eight years ago from Cincinnati, where she lived in subsidized housing.

“It’s not fair at all,” said the mom of eight kids, all of whom stayed in the hotel room with her. “(They) didn’t give anybody time to have a plan B or anything, they just wanna throw someone out.”

But the head of the Coalition to End Homelessness insisted no one was getting kicked out.

“No one’s being forced to leave,” said Wende Randall, who works at the Heart of West Michigan United Way, where she’s the lead staff person for the Homelessness Coalition. “We’re working with them to find other solutions. We’ve had some calls come in (from families) where we’re helping to reconnect with their case managers to help get that safety planning in place.”

Randall said if a family has absolutely no place to go, they allowed to remain in the hotel.

The families 24 Hour News 8 encountered said they did have some place to stay Friday night, but had no idea where they would land Saturday night.

Shelter space for families is very limited in Grand Rapids, with only 32 rooms available at a couple different facilities, including Mel Trotter.

At any given time, there are 100 families in hotels or on waiting lists.

“The need has far exceeded the funding we have available for hotels,” explained Randall. “The need continues to grow and grow so we are at a tipping point. We are at a crisis point and we need to uncover both the methods to resolve the issue as well as the resources to resolve the issue.

“We are unable to keep families in hotels for extended periods. It just is not financially feasible and it’s not a good solution for them. We want a long-term solution for them.”

Randall said 80 percent of homeless families in Kent County have at least one working parent.

“These are the working poor,” Randall said.

Randall says the Coalition to End Homelessness created an emergency task force this week to address the growing problem. The Salvation Army coordinates emergency shelter in Grand Rapids and presumably covers the hotel costs.

But the agency did not respond to requests for information regarding why families were told to vacate hotels this week.

24 Hour News 8 will continue to follow developments in this story.

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