Alliance unveils new plan to reduce housing insecurity in Kent County

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Kayla Morgan is the owner of Resilient Roots Yoga and one of the original facilitators of the project. Courtesy KConnect

The Housing Stability Alliance released a plan to address housing insecurity in Kent County.

The plan, called “Redefining the Path Home: System Building for Housing Stability in Kent County,” was developed in partnership with KConnect and features a common agenda, current state analysis and a roadmap of actionable strategies that will promote housing stability throughout Kent County.

Alliance co-chairs Rosalynn Bliss, mayor of Grand Rapids; Mandy Bolter, Kent County board chair, Christina Keller, Cascade Engineering CEO; and Lynne Ferrell, Frey Foundation program director, gave a joint statement coinciding with the release of the plan.

“On behalf of the Housing Stability Alliance, we are pleased to release this community plan for addressing housing insecurity in Kent County,” the statement read. “This plan builds on what we do well while dismantling policies that lead to disproportionate outcomes. This is long-term work, and we have already seen positive changes in the way that organizations are working together to achieve better results. We are confident that this plan will be a catalyst toward the relationships and collaborations needed to produce stable homes for all in our community.”

The plan comes at a time when the number of people experiencing homelessness in Kent County is increasing. Over the last three years, the number of homeless people in Kent County grew by 37%, primarily driven by families with children, and that number now exceeds 11,000 individuals being homeless in 2019.

Exacerbating this economic vulnerability of these families are the sharp breaks in the data on race and ethnicity. In 2019, nearly 1 in 6 Black children in Kent County accessed the homeless system compared with 1 in 130 white children. Black people are 12% of the total Kent County population and are 72% of all the children and adults in families in the homeless system.

“We knew from the beginning that this community plan needed to be rooted in the voice of those with lived experience,” said Kayla Morgan, owner of Resilient Roots Yoga and one of the original facilitators of the project. “This plan is grounded in their voice and pays special attention to developing a framework that implements anti-racism training for our community leaders. As the work moves forward, it will continue to lift community voice and empower those with lived experience to not only be part of the work but to lead it.”

Grand Rapids Second Ward Commissioner and president/CEO of The Urban League of West Michigan Joe Jones was one of the individuals who brought light to inequities in housing. Jones asked KConnect to serve as a neutral facilitator and convener to address the problem. He also co-created the community engagement plan that is integrated into the work.

“We approached KConnect because of its reputation in the community as experts in process, facilitation, data and equity,” Jones said. “With KConnect’s support, the Housing Stability Alliance was able to prioritize the needs of the community and develop a framework that lifts up the voice of lived experience while placing people at the center of the work. We are creating a new system that values the end-user and addresses the historical racism that has been prevalent in our community.”

This plan is centered on equity and identifies nine root causes of homelessness, including systemic racism, a lack of a cohesive strategy among providers and the prevalent idea that homelessness is an individual rather than a systemic problem. It brings together data analysis, community voices and a commitment to make Kent County a more equitable place to live.

Based on these findings, the Housing Stability Alliance developed a roadmap of strategies and actions that will be operationalized in the next phase of work to promote housing stability in Kent County.

The roadmap includes plans around:

  • An equity and community engagement plan that empowers people with lived experiences to sit at decision-making tables in the future system.
  • A “backbone entity” to be developed under the direction of a steering committee and will eventually lead the work in the coming years.
  • A shared measurement system of vetted, agreed-upon metrics to illuminate where different populations in Kent County are situated within the housing stability spectrum and track progress toward greater overall housing stability.
  • High-leverage activities that can be immediately lifted by the alliance to address the root causes of housing instability.
  • A communication plan to communicate progress and challenges across the alliance and out to the broader community.

The plan is the result of two years of cross-sector engagement, including representatives from the public and private sector, philanthropy, nonprofit and education. This movement toward equity for those experiencing housing instability is the first of its kind for Kent County.

The complete plan can be found at k-connect.org/housing.

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