The Grand Rapids Police Department announced that officers are conducting a sweep of the downtown area and west side of the city in order to locate any homeless persons who might need transportation to a shelter as an ice storm beats down on Michigan. According to the Grand Rapids Police Department’s Facebook announcement,”Both community officers and patrol officers are conducting this operation.”
In Kent County, Michigan, the number of homeless people is at it’s highest count in several years, according to the Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness. In January, the homeless people count showed a 15 percent increase compared to the count the year before. The area’s homeless people were counted by 50 volunteers on a night when the temperatures dipped into the single digits. 912 people were listed as without permanent housing. 307 of the area’s homeless people were actually children under the age of 18, according to FOX Channel 17. Most of the homeless resided in shelters, but some were still found sleeping in places “not fit for human habitation” at a time when Michigan’s temperatures dropped below 10 degrees. A contributing factor to the homelessness was the Grand Rapids area’s diminishing availability of housing that is considered affordable.
A representative from the Coalition to End Homelessness said that Grand Rapids’ was experiencing a seven year high for homelessness. Additionally, people are having a hard time finding housing while fleeing domestic violence situations. The Coalition also called for an increase focus on housing opportunities for the state’s veterans.
“It costs our system more for people to experience homelessness for a longer period of time,” Vail said. “We know that getting people into permanent housing as quickly as possible actually saves money in the long run all around.”
Grand Rapids police help homeless find shelter during winter storm https://t.co/2UvGdCaztL
— Grand Rapids Press (@GRPress) December 28, 2015
Monday, Michigan was pelted with an onslaught of sleet, freezing rain, and brutal wind gusts.
— Melissa Jay (@mdjay419) December 28, 2015
The ice storm would could prevent homeless people from making their way to shelters, so the Grand Rapids police are attempting to locate any homeless people in need of shelter. A 2 p.m. sweep resulted in no homeless people located, but the response on Facebook to the police department’s post indicates there are still people seeking shelter in areas that are not sufficient for the current weather situation in Michigan. Capt. Matt Ostapowicz took the empty-handed first sweep as a good sign, though, but still sent officers out again at 3:15 p.m.. The sweeps will continue throughout the evening.
“I walked out on Monroe Center and decided we better go try to help some folks that need a place to stay,” says Ostapowicz. “The wind is nasty.”
“If we find people, we can’t make them go anywhere. All we can do is try to help them and encourage them,” says Ostapowicz. “Sometimes they don’t want to be found.”
The National Weather Service in Grand Rapids indicates that ice accumulations of a quarter to a half-inch are expected. Coupled with 40 to 50 mph wind gusts, power outages are expected throughout Michigan.
— Ryan Maue (@RyanMaue) December 28, 2015
When weather is as bad as it is expected to be into Monday night, Grand Rapids homeless shelters relax their entrance policies. Even homeless people who had been banned in the past are accepted into shelters during periods of inclement weather.
The Grand Rapids Police Department is accepting calls from citizens reporting anyone who looks like they are in need of shelter.
“We’ll assist them any way we can,” says Ostapowicz.
Winter storm warnings and watches have been issued for much of Michigan as the state experiences its first ice storm of the winter. Gov. Rick Snyder reportedly activated the state’s Emergency Operations Center on Monday which coordinates response and recovery efforts locally and throughout the State of Michigan. Many state offices in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula closed early Monday afternoon.
[Image via Facebook | cropped]