Runaways and Homeless Children Tell Their Stories

homeless girlsBy: Deb Havens

West Michigan is known as a great place to raise kids, but every year an average of 2,000 young people run away from home. When you’re a homeless child, streets in West Michigan towns are as dirty and dangerous as any in a big city. As the weather gets colder, somewhere around 200 kids will be looking for food and a warm place to sleep every night. Chances are, wherever they land, safety may be a last consideration.

Fortunately, the non-profit organization Arbor Circle provides counseling and support for up to 21 days for young people ages 10 to 20 years old at the only emergency shelter in the community. Jenell Hill, Arbor Circle Community Engagement Coordinator says, “Many people don’t believe it.” So to spotlight these issues in honor of National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, Arbor Circle, located at 1115 Ball Ave NE in Grand Rapids, will host the Green Light Project in November:

The Green Light Project, Wednesday, November 4, 2015 – 5:30pm–8pm

Young people who have experienced living as a runaway and homeless who found shelter either at The Bridge or homeless kidsother service programs will host facility tours and share their stories. “Sometimes it’s not only therapeutic for young people but they are also a voice for their peers,” adds Hill. “Maybe other young people won’t have the same struggles.”

Without Arbor Circle, homeless, runaway, and street youth often become victims of abuse and neglect, sexual assault or trafficking, and get involved in substance abuse. They also tend to suffer from both physical and mental health issues, failure in school, and trouble with the law. These are the stories that Hill says are often overlooked when people think about the good life in West Michigan.

Hill stresses that all minor youth tour guides participate with permission of their parents, and those under 18 lead tours accompanied by Arbor Circle staff members. Hill says that budget cuts in Washington, D.C. have affected Arbor Circle resources. “We used to have a 15 seat bus to transport kids, but that broke down and we haven’t been able to replace it,” notes Hill. “We also rely on volunteers to help us cook meals.” Donations and volunteers are always welcome.

For more information on services for homeless or runaway children, contact Arbor Circle / The Bridge.