In the past six months, I have become more aware of the homeless situation in our area. I know every city deals with homelessness, but we don’t always think small towns like Grand Haven have this type of problem. I found out I was wrong—very wrong.

It started this past summer when our neighbor’s son became homeless. Both of my younger boys currently attend Grand Rapids Catholic Central, which is located very near a few of the local missions. When they go to school each day, they witness the number of homeless people—adults and kids—lined up to receive help from the various missions. Since our neighbor’s son became homeless, my youngest boy now looks through the lines each day to see if he sees him. He has noticed him a few times, and it actually brings some relief because he knows he is “okay.”

Again, this past November, I learned more about the homeless problem in West Michigan. A friend invited me to an open house at Arbor Circle. I have to admit, I didn’t know much about Arbor Circle at the time, but I soon found out about the great work they do for so many people in this area. They help teens potentially reunite with their families, or guide them through the system to get them the help that is available. Arbor Circle also provides mental health counseling, substance use treatment, and so much more. They are doing an amazing job helping families work through difficult times in their lives.

At the open house, two young adults (around 20 years old) spoke to the audience about their homeless experiences, and that’s when I first heard the term “couch surfing.” If you have never heard of couch surfing, it’s where a person sleeps on someone’s couch for a few days at a time and then moves on to a different house and a different couch. Many people use this type of “lodging” to travel the world and take vacations they couldn’t afford if they stayed in pricey hotels. For a homeless person, the term couch surfing takes on a whole new meaning. It’s a way of life and a way to survive.

Just a few days ago, homelessness hit close to home once again. My friend called me and told me her son’s friend was in a “situation.” Yes, the young boy and his family found themselves homeless. Fortunately, my friend and I networked and quickly found housing for this family. In less than 12 hours, we were able to find an affordable rental property, and I’m happy to report that he and his grandparents moved into the house on Saturday. The stories of homeless kids in this area are numerous. In fact, someone I know recently posted an article on Facebook about the reality of homelessness in our area. I had no idea the issue was so large, but the title of the article (http://www.allshores.org/outreach-blog/180-homeless-students-in-grand-haven/) told the real story: “180 Homeless Students in Grand Haven.” That’s right—180 kids have no place to live! When I helped my friend find housing for that boy and his grandparents last week, I had to go back and read the article again and figure out a way to help others in the same situation. I started to think about who I could contact to get the word out about the number of homeless kids in Grand Haven.

I know my friend and I were lucky that we were able to help this family so quickly and connect the dots to find them shelter on such short notice. But, think about how many connections we all have throughout this city and how many other kids need similar help. I had no idea that the number of homeless students in Grand Haven was so high, and I was glad that I could prevent the number from becoming 181.

After I finished reading that Facebook post, I was reminded of a student my middle son used to talk about when they both attended Lakeshore Middle School in Grand Haven a few years ago. My son was very concerned about this boy, and I remember him saying to me, “Mom, he sleeps on a couch. No one wakes him up for school, and sometimes he misses the bus and has to walk to school. He walked today, Mom, and he was soaking wet when he got to school!” These are children we are talking about—180 of them—and it’s not okay!

I decided to do something to help the homeless kids in Grand Haven, and I’m hoping you are able to help out as well. I reached out to the Homeless Liaison at the Grand Haven Area Public Schools (GHAPS) to see if she could get me more information on what can be done to help homeless students in this area. She was happy to share her knowledge with me and thrilled that I wanted to take action.

At Blueberry Haven this Friday, January 15, I will be handing out copies of the Facebook article and brochures that will have more information about how you can help the homeless families in Grand Haven. You may recall from my blog last week that Blueberry Haven will take part in the Wine About Winter event Friday evening, so we decided this was a great time to get the word out to everyone who walks through our door.

Grand Haven is such a giving community, and I know there are many people out there who are willing and able to help in one way or another. Let’s work together to help those in need in our community. I’m sure not every situation is as easy as the one my friend and I helped with last week, but sometimes just a few phone calls can make a big difference in someone’s life. Stop in to Blueberry Haven this Friday evening for some wine, shopping, and a chance to make a difference. Or contact bensonc@ghaps.org-the Grand Haven Public Schools Liason to start helping!

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