Number of Metro area homeless families on rise

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News
Angela Boyce and three of her five children, Adrielle, 8; Israel, 2, and Gabriel, 10, play in their Woodhaven home. Boyce, who was homeless for a time, has been given help from the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency who got the family into their current apartment.

Imagine desperately looking for shelter only to be turned away for having too many children.

This scenario is all too familiar for the Boyce family and hundreds of other large families in need.

As the number of homeless families increases in Michigan, the number of shelters that will take in large clans isn't meeting the demand. There are only eight across the state that provide a place to stay for families with more than two or three children.

Despite a recovering economy, family homelessness has increased in the past six years from 11,776 in 2008 to 13,794 this year, according to the Michigan State Housing Development program. Those trying to solve the problem say one factor is rising rental rates for apartments or homes large enough for bigger families.

More than 50 percent of the homeless population in Michigan is families. The 13,794 represents a total of 34,324 individuals, 18,592 of which are children.

Also on the rise are the numbers of unaccompanied minors and single adults who are homeless.

In the past year, the number of homeless children increased to 1,189 from 1,061 in 2012 and homeless single adults increased to 39,580 from 39,025 in the same years, according to the Campaign to End Homelessness.

Major Kevin Van Zee, core officer at MATTS (Macomb's Answer to Temporary Shelter), which holds up to 107 people, said the shelter is full every night

"There is not enough beds to go around to serve everyone," Van Zee said. "We try and network with other shelters so we can give resources to individuals that we might not have room for."

MATTS is among a coalition of area groups that serve the homeless. But for families, it's not so easy.

Angela Boyce and her five children were left destitute and broken after leaving her abusive husband.

"We didn't have a house and the car needed repair. We were homeless. We didn't have any resources," Boyce said.

She found out quickly some shelters have a child limit. At most shelters a family can't have more than three children, so when Boyce told them she had five, it was automatically a no. For the same reason she couldn't get a hotel voucher.

"When you say that you have five children people look at you different," Boyce said. "They ask, 'do the children have the same father?' People assume that you have a substance abuse problem, don't want to work or just made a series of bad choices. People don't realize there are many faces of homelessness."

One of the only shelters in Wayne County that accepts the entire family is the Wayne County Family Center in Westland.

Director Tania James said the focal point is not to split the family unit.

"We have seen families where the father had to stay one place and the mother and children had to stay at another," James said. "The children are asking why their father can't come or why they have to stay somewhere else ... it can break the family dynamic."

The facility houses up to 25 families at a time and can hold a family of up to 10. Most families stay between three months and two years, but there is no time limit.

"Each family is given their own room with a lock and key. Childcare is onsite, three meals and an evening snack is provided every day. We teach financial and budgeting classes and we have a resume writer to help with employment opportunities," James said.

The Family Center receives its funding from government grants and individual donors. In some cases, a person or organization can adopt a family.

Program Manager Tamieka Andrews has seen an increase in families coming to their shelter.

"When people would think of homelessness it was usually the single mom and her child … now it's the entire family," she said. "The economy is coming back but we have seen more families as the price of rental property goes up it's harder to accommodate a larger family. The cost of living is higher and there is not enough affordable housing."

"In over 20 years, this is the first time our waiting list doubled," Andrews said.

Added James: "Before, we would have 500 families waiting … now, the list is over 800."

Wayne Metro Community Action Agency also helps people who are homeless or need extra help.

Mia Cupp, director of development and communications, says it's up to groups like them to look out for individuals that have fallen on rough times.

"I guess you could say I'm a professional cobbler. I help get resources for people to help them get back on their feet and to keep individuals in a safe environment through tough times," Cupp said.

For families still in their home but who have fallen on hard times, Wayne Metro offers emergency utility assistance.

"Most of the money in households go to the lights or gas and that leaves for nothing else," Cupp said. "DTE has really supported us in the past and the contributions from our donors helps us to step up and care for our most vulnerable citizens."

The Emergency Utility Fund is also experiencing hardship with a waiting list for the first time until January.

"Homelessness is getting worse. And there is definitely a need for more family shelters. We get so many people in need and we really want to help everyone," James said.

As for the Boyce family, after spending years homeless, a case worker was able to find them transitional housing.

In the process, Boyce was able to get a job working from home in medical sales to support her children.

"For three years, we didn't have a home," Boyce said. "We are truly blessed to have people in our lives that have such love and compassion."

While housing is the ultimate goal, James said, more money is needed to help end homelessness. "We are looking to partner with corporations," she said.

The image of a single man on the street panhandling has now morphed into a reality of entire families looking for their next meal and a place to call home.

"The homeless is not what Hollywood or TV portray it to be. They look just like us," Andrews said.

Where families can go

■COTS (Coalition on Temporary Shelter), 26 Peterborough, Detroit, MI 48201, (313) 831-3777,

■St. Dominic's Missionary of Charity, 4835 Lincoln, Detroit, MI 48208, (313) 831-1028

■MATTS (Macomb's Answer to Temporary Shelter), 4844 E. Nine Mile, Warren, MI 48091, (586) 755-5191,

■Project Helping Hands,3525 Cass Avenue, Detroit, MI 48201, (313) 833-7270 and (313) 831-2711

■Salvation Army,18961 Common, Roseville, MI 48066, (810) 775-4567,

■Salvation Army, 55 Church, Mt. Clemens, MI 48043, (586) 469-6712,

■Salvation Army, 34 Oakland, Pontiac, MI 48059, (248) 334-2407, After hours: (248) 674-4420,

■Wayne County Family Center, 30600 Michigan Avenue, Westland, MI 48185, (734) 721-0590,