GVSU students highlight West Michigan homelessness

GVL / Kasey Garvelink - Tyler Crowley asks a question during the Homelessness Awareness event on Apr. 2, 2016 in Allendale.

Kasey Garvelink

GVL / Kasey Garvelink - Tyler Crowley asks a question during the Homelessness Awareness event on Apr. 2, 2016 in Allendale.

Sanda Vazgec

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The homeless population in Michigan has increased by more than 6 percent since 2014, and that growth has showed no signs of slowing down. In the 13 counties that make up the West Michigan area, there are over 12,000 people who identify as homeless.

“It’s really something I see every day, living in downtown Grand Rapids,” said Grand Valley State University student Cody Ingram. “The volume of homeless people in this area is hard to grasp because it’s so widespread, every part of the city is affected, it’s not just concentrated in one area.”

A group of students at GVSU took the opportunity to help the local homeless population by setting up a homelessness awareness and goods drive. The group of five students conducted the event as a part of their MGT 345 Team Building class.

The students hoped to give their peers an opportunity to find ways to volunteer their time to shelters and educate themselves on the severity of homelessness in their community.

“We were split into groups and charged with doing a project that would give back to the community in some way,” said GVSU student Michelle Belanger. “We had many ideas and settled on helping the homeless community. We wanted to help the shelters get volunteers by spreading awareness.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development classifies homelessness into four categories: those who are currently homeless, those who will become homeless in the near future, youth and families who suffer from instability caused by hardship and those who suffer from instability due to domestic violence.

In the West Michigan area, much of the homeless population is caused by the large gap between pay wages and housing costs. The region is home to many corporations and business that require employees to have college degrees, so many people find it difficult to find and keep jobs without an advanced education. Some individuals who do have jobs make low wages that are not enough to pay for housing expenses.

Belanger said she didn’t realize how large the homeless population is, and that shelters are not just low on supplies but are heavily lacking in volunteers. She said it is understandable that college students do not have an extensive amount of money or goods to donate, but volunteering their time and spreading awareness of the issue will help the cause just as much.

There is an extensive list of shelters throughout the Grand Rapids area where students are able to volunteer by helping with childcare during the day, working in kitchens to assist in making and serving food and distributing donated goods.

For a list of homeless shelters and volunteer opportunities in West Michigan, visit www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/michigan.