Beneath the shadows of some of our city’s most impressive buildings live men and women whose lives are a constant struggle between the streets and the hope of survival. Many of these men and women, challenged by addictions, mental and physical disabilities, live in low-income housing that does little more than provide shelter. Others spend the night at one of the city’s missions or remain outdoors wandering in search of a place that is safe and warm. This scene repeats itself daily in the Heartside Neighborhood of Grand Rapids.
Joining these men and women are individuals who are new to the streets—those recently unemployed, unable to use their college degree, or struggling after a major life event such as the loss of a loved one, foreclosure or devastating divorce. Many are working poor, not earning enough to pay their bills. These individuals never thought they would be in such great need. They serve as a reminder that no one is exempt from crisis and we never know what the next day may bring. These people live on the margin, a place society does not accommodate. Their stories and their needs often go untold to the broader community.
According to the Grand Rapids Coalition to End Homelessness, 700-800 are considered homeless. Many more, probably thousands, go unaccounted for as they sleep on the streets, in cars, or doubled up with family or friends. In January 2010, the Brookings Institute reported that 25 percent of the individuals living in Grand Rapids are in poverty. This staggering number reflects the highest increase in the poverty rate in the U.S. among all 95 cities studied.