(Data sourced from KConnect analysis, 2018 Video created by Heart of West Michigan United Way, 2018)
When you think of homelessness, many of us conjure up the image of the homeless man on the street corner. We rarely picture the single mother and young children living in a car or struggling to find space at a local homeless shelter. However, the face of homelessness has changed in Kent County over the last two decades. In 2018 there were nearly 11,000 individuals of all ages in the homeless system; approximately one-third were children with the average age being that of a first-grader. Nearly half were found in Grand Rapids in the zipcodes 49507, 49503, and 49504, and many of them had been in the homeless system or on the streets multiple times over the course of three years.
Not only has there been an increase in family homelessness, but there are massive racial disparity gaps in the homeless system. In 2018, 1 in 160 White individuals were in the homeless system compared to 1 in 54 Hispanic/Latinx individuals and 1 in 7 Black/African American individuals. (2018 KConnect data analysis – bit.ly/KConnectHousingData)
We can all agree that experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity can have a detrimental psychological effect on a child. Childhood trauma negatively affects neurologic development and increases the risk of long-term adverse effects. This is often referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (or ACEs). The impact of these experiences begins during childhood and continues throughout adulthood.
Kids with high ACE scores are more likely to experience anxiety and depression as children, developmental delays, including negative cognitive and socioemotional health issues, academic challenges, behavioral health issues, and specialized health needs. ACEs also increase the likelihood of high school non-completion, not having a college degree, being unemployed as an adult, living below the poverty line, and experiencing homelessness. (National Healthcare for the Homeless Council)
When we put the two together – the rise of childhood homelessness in Kent County and the impact of ACEs on a child’s life – we can easily deduce that since the majority of children in the homeless system are children of color, specifically Black/African American children, those populations are more likely to experience ACEs, and therefore more likely to experience negative outcomes throughout their lives.
If we know that childhood homelessness and housing insecurity have a significant impact on a child’s development and future success, what can we do to make a difference in a child’s life now? One thing that is happening in Kent County is the development of Housing Kent in 2022. This organization is focused on three shared goals: Increasing affordable housing, dissolving homelessness, and eliminating racial disparities. Their ultimate goal is that there are zero racial disparities in the housing system and Kent County ranks in the top ten for equitable homeownership within the next twenty years.
We also have recommendations from the Michigan League for Public Policy surrounding what policies are currently impacting housing security and how you can determine whether you candidate is supporting an equitable housing system. You can find that here.For further information, reach out to Housing Kent at www.k-connect.org/housingkent or Michigan League for Public Policy at www.mlpp.org.