Grand Haven

Emergency housing programs ‘saved my family,’ mom says

Like a lot of people, Katrina Karlsons is home this week.

But for her, it’s a particularly sweet experience. Life was uncertain for Karlsons and her family even before the COVID-19 pandemic caused massive shutdowns across the state and country.

Karlsons, her fiance and their two kids became homeless after they were evicted from their West Olive home Jan. 9. After finding temporary housing with the Salvation Army emergency shelter in Grand Haven, the family began working with Good Samaritan Ministries to move out of homelessness.

“They literally saved my family,” Karlsons says.

The family of four moved into a Grand Haven duplex this week. Good Samaritan paid the security deposit and first month’s rent.
Both Karlsons and her fiance grew up in the lakeshore town. It’s familiar. On March 27, she got a retail job, though it’s just eight hours a week.
Katrina Karlsons, her fiance, and their two kids became homeless after they were evicted from their West Olive home in January.
“It’s something for now,” says Karlsons, who added she will continue to look for more employment. “I don’t have to worry about losing my house. I know that.”

From crisis to thriving

Good Samaritan Ministries helps those struggling with homelessness to move from crisis to stabilized, from stabilized to surviving and from surviving to thriving, Executive Director Drew Peirce says.

The Holland-based nonprofit receives 5,000 calls for help per year and helps lift people out of homelessness through its programs: rental assistance, holistic property management, and Circles, for those who are stabilized and need support to achieve their goals.

“We have a number of people — their housing is barely stabilized,” Peirce says, adding it is now a question of “how do we keep people housed through this crisis?”

“This is a setback,” he says.

New focus

Good Samaritan continues its core work of housing the homeless through the pandemic and beyond.

“In fact, we’ve been able to house three new families out of homelessness this week,” Peirce said Saturday, March 28.

However, Good Samaritan is shifting the way it meets the needs of the most vulnerable, he says, and expanding its work to include more prevention.

The nonprofit is raising private money to keep its clients in programming longer. The Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area, Greater Ottawa County United Way, and Grand Haven Area Community Foundation have created a coalition and set up a fund to help area nonprofits meet the increased need. Good Samaritan has received $25,000 in emergency grants.
Katrina Karlsons is grateful her two young sons now have a home.
Peirce expects a significant increase in the demand for those housing services as more people face income challenges from COVID-19 closures. Of the 42 families receiving housing assistance from Good Samaritan, 27 had recently lost income due to the COVID-19 restrictions, he says. More than 800,00 cases of the coronavirus have been reported worldwide — with more than 160,000 in the U.S., the most of any country, according to worldometers.

Good Samaritan is also reaching out to those who have completed programs recently to ensure they don’t fall back into homelessness, making sure they can keep current on rent, their budgets are under control, and to support them as they solve problems brought on by the pandemic and closures.

Rapid Rehousing

With Good Samaritan’s Rapid Rehousing program, Karlsons and her family start off paying 5% of their income toward rent and utilities. That percentage increases slightly each month until they graduate from the program.

In Grand Haven, Karlsons will soon start meeting with her case manager once a week and start a Salvation Army program for finances and budgeting.

Although Good Samaritan case managers aren’t meeting clients face to face and Circles gatherings have moved online for now, the nonprofit is still finding innovative ways to help those who reach out.

Peirce has heard plenty of fear from people increasingly anxious about the economy amid the coronavirus crisis. He has also heard a lot of resilience from those same people who are looking for new solutions to help themselves out of poverty.

“I have more hope,” Karlsons says, “because a month ago I didn’t know where I was going with my kids.”
This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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