Study: 1 in 7 black children in Kent Co. lacks stable home

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Disturbing new numbers show the impact of Kent County’s affordable housing crisis on children, especially children of color.

A study found that approximately one in seven African American children in Kent County faced homelessness in 2018.

That’s compared to one in 54 Latino children and one in 160 white children.

All of the children identified in the study entered the homeless system in Kent County in 2018 and were deemed either “literally” homeless or “imminently” homeless. 

The research, conducted  by the Grand Rapids-based non-profit KConnect, is based on the 2018 Annual Homeless Count data from the Homeless Management Information System run by the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness and the 2017 American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census.

“We certainly have a problem of homelessness in Kent County, but then we also have a more targeted problem of homelessness among women of color and their children in Kent County,” said Rachel Scott, vice president of development at Rockford Construction.

Scott was one of 50 or so participants in a collaborative workshop Friday held at Western Michigan University’s campus on E. Beltline Avenue.

The workshop – part of the Housing Security Initiative – brought together a diverse group of private and public stakeholders, including people in real estate development, government, social services, education and philanthropy.

“The mission (of the Housing Security Initiative) is to increase access to affordable housing and decrease homelessness for families, children and youth, with an intentional focus on eliminating racial disparities in Kent County,” wrote the Grand Rapids-based non-profit facilitating the effort, KConnect.

>>Read the report online

It was KConnect that analyzed the data showing Kent County’s children of color face much higher rates of homelessness than white children.

“Historically, there’ve been a lot of systems in place that contribute to this problem, quite frankly (such as) redlining, elevated incarceration of people of color and unfair wages,” Scott said. “We know that women of color are paid a lot less than their counterparts. So, when we talk about solving the (homelessness) problem, we really need to highlight that (racial disparity) piece of it to then solve it.”

Kent County schools are seeing similar patterns of racial disparity, reporting record numbers of homeless students overall in the first quarter of the school year.

“We have just seen a huge number of students who have remained homeless for much longer periods of time,” said Casey Gordon, a special populations consultant with the Kent Intermediate School District.

For the 2018/2019 school year, Kent ISD reports 2,457 homeless students.

That’s up from 2,159 homeless students for the year 2015/2016. 

Grand Rapids Public Schools currently reports 953 homeless students – 6% of the district of 15,300 students.

In one 10-day period in August, GRPS identified 193 newly homeless students.

“We have seen more families in cars. More families in campers, in tents because there is such a lack of places to go right now,” Gordon said. “You cannot go to school and learn math and learn how to read by grade three when you’re worried about, ‘will I be cold,’ ‘where will I stay,’ ‘I just lost all of my belongings that I had.’”

The housing crisis was clearly illustrated in fall 2018 when 75 homeless families were forced from Grand Rapids hotels because emergency state funding ran out.

Gordon discounted the false narrative that homelessness is somehow the result of bad choices or a refusal to work hard.

“That’s not true. There are so many people in this world that are your neighbors, that are the people across the street, that are just one crisis away from being unstable and losing their housing. The affordable housing crisis here in Kent County has risen to such a level that working families cannot afford something on two incomes,” Gordon said.  

Bo Torres, executive director of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, said struggling families are sharing homes too small to accommodate them.

“We are seeing a lot of doubling, a lot of tripling up in some instances,” Torres said. “Where you may have a bedroom in a home and that might be housing three or four people.”

The Housing Security Initiative, launched in fall 2018, is expected to wrap up in six months.

The work will result in a comprehensive community plan – a “common agenda and road map” – to improve access to affordable housing, with a focus on creating equitable outcomes for children and families.

The statistical analysis by KConnect, which produced approximate numbers, was based on the 2018 Annual Homeless Count data from the HMIS (Homeless Management Information System) run by MCAH (Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness) and the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) data from the U.S. Census.

The analysis of 2018 data also found that:

  • 10,538 people (of all ages) were in the homeless system.
  • 1 in 62 people in Kent County was in the homeless system.
  • 33% of those in the homeless system were children.
  • 3,471 children (ages 0-17) were in the homeless system.
  • 1 in 46 children in Kent County was in the homeless system.
  • 20% of children in the homeless system, or 710 children, were white.
  • 14% of children in the homeless system, or 497 children, were Hispanic/Latino.
  • 76% of children in the homeless system, or 2,658 children, were Black/African American.

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