Schools see uptick in homeless students

Michael Wilson's life began unraveling three years ago when he lost his wife to pancreatic cancer. A year later, the 57-year-old lost his house because of mounting medical bills and the fact that the house was in his wife's name. Wilson said the bank refused to negotiate with him once they learned his wife had died.
Len Painter
Apr 6, 2012


The following year, Wilson’s life would become even more complicated. His three grandchildren were going to be sent to foster homes because of parental neglect. He decided to take guardianship of his grandchildren — two of which have medical issues.

Wilson found temporary housing at a friend’s cottage in Spring Lake. But the self-employed painter and part-time theater production worker struggled to keep up with the cost of caring for his grandchildren. After a year, Wilson was again in need of housing.

His family was given temporary shelter at the Grand Haven Sister Bernice House, transitional housing offered by The Salvation Army and St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, and he was put in contact with Cindy Benson, liaison for homeless students in the Grand Haven school district.

His three grandchildren are among the more than 100 Grand Haven students who receive assistance from the district’s homeless program.

In Spring Lake, Ann Henke, the school district’s homeless liaison, said she is working with 30 students — most of them in elementary schools.

Statewide, there are more than 30,000 homeless students, an increase of 8,500 from one year ago, according to the Michigan Department of Education. The weak economy, joblessness and rising number of home foreclosures have led to the increase.

Benson said one student was living in a Grand Haven public restroom.

“I don’t think people realize we have as many homeless people as we do,” she said. “Children get lost in the shuffle because they are moving so much.”

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.


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