• Homelessness affects many men, women and children in our community, at all times of the year.

What Is Homelessness?

What is Homelessness?

Homelessness – n. Destitute of a home — Webster’s International Dictionary

How homelessness is defined by HUD (The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development):

A homeless person is: An individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and An individual or family who has a primary nighttime residence that is:

  •  A supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill);
  • An institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or
  • A public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, regular sleeping accommodations for human beings.
  • This term does not include any individual imprisoned or otherwise detained under an Act of Congress or a State law.

Who Are The Homeless?

Our homeless neighbors are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. Homelessness knows no boundaries – shelter guests have ranged in age from newborn to 86 years of age.

They are people very much like you and me who have no place to call home, yet they work next to us, they worship beside us – they are part of our community. Many are families many with children, most are hard working people who simply have a hard time making ends meet, they have no shelter, little or no food and very little hope for a brighter future. We can give them a brighter future by seeing them for who they are real people with real challenges and no real place to call home. Goodwill’s Homeless and Housing programs are there to help open doors to more than just shelter for our neighbors experiencing homelessness, but to housing, employment and independent futures.

Why Are People Homeless?

There is no one reason or one profile of homelessness, but it is true that homeless people are our neighbors, literally. They work in local stores, they worship next to us in church, and they go to school with our children. There are many causes of homelessness (see below). At least 50% of the time it is directly related to economic issues and prolonged poverty.  Eviction, abuse, family changes, incarceration, disability or illness, substance abuse issues also trigger episodes of homelessness.

What triggers homelessness

In 1997, 13.3% of the U.S. population, or 35.6 million people, lived in poverty (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998). While the number of poor people has not changed much in recent years, the number of people living in extreme poverty has increased. In 1997, 14.6 million people — 41% of all poor persons — had incomes of less than half the poverty level. This represents an increase of over 500,000 from 1995. Forty percent of persons living in poverty are children; in fact, the 1997 poverty rate of 19.9% for children is almost twice as high as the poverty rate for any other age group.

Homelessness is usually the result of a complex set of personal and structural circumstances that push people into poverty and force impossible choices between food, shelter, medical expenses, and other basic needs. Often it is housing (which absorbs a high proportion of income) that must be dropped. To an individual living in extreme poverty, an illness, an accident, or a minor set back can mean he or she is only one paycheck away from living on the streets.

Other Important Contributors to Homelessness

  • Housing inequality and unavailability
  • Lack of work opportunities
  • Decline in public assistance available
  • Failure of the health care system, Domestic Violence, Mental Illness, Substance Abuse

How Many Are Homeless?

Globally: It is estimated that one billion people in the world lack adequate housing, including 100 million who are completely homeless.

Nationally: It is estimated that, on any one night, 750,000 Americans will be without shelter and that approximately 3.0 million Americans will be homeless at some time during the year. Approximately 50% are in families -38% are children. 5.4 million families are at risk for homelessness due to a lack of affordable housing -paying more than 50% of their income for rent.


  • In Michigan, on any one night, there are approximately 24,713 sheltered homeless individuals, with an additional 41,338 unsheltered, a total of 66,051. These statistics include 34,622 adults and children in homeless families.
  •  In Michigan, adults and children in families account for 52% of the total homeless population. Youth 17 years or younger and not in families account for an estimated 5% of the total homeless in Michigan. This means that, in Michigan, there are at least 3,000 youth and children who are alone and homeless.


  • It is estimated that at any point in time there are 591 homeless individuals in the surrounding five-county area (Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, and Leelanau). Local shelters serve approximately 700-800 per year; many are turned away due to lack of room. Some are doubled up with friends or family; some live on the streets and in parks. Some stay in local motels when off-season rates are available.
  • Many of the homeless in this area are young people ages 14-17 — too young to stay in local homeless shelters. Some of these young people are exiting the foster care system, some have been kicked out by their families and some are runaways. All are on their own and alone.

National homeless statistics source: National Alliance to End Homelessness Statewide homeless statistics extracted from 2001 Michigan Statewide Continuum of Care: Gaps Analsysis.

 Homeless Myths and Facts

“And homeless near a thousand homes I stood, And near a thousand tables pined and wanted food.” – William Wordsworth

Myth: Not many children are homeless.
Fact:Children make up at least 20% of the homeless population. Families with children is the fastest growing group of homeless. Nationally, one in five people in a soup kitchen line is a child. Many homeless children are alone and homeless, either runaways or “throwaways”.

Myth: Most of them are mentally ill.
Fact:The mentally ill comprise about 25% of the national total homeless. Many are unable to access mental health services and are too ill to stay in a shelter.

Myth:They are heavy drug and alcohol users.
Fact:Some homeless are substance abusers; research suggests one in four. Many of these are included in the 25% who are mentally ill.

Myth:They want to be that way.
Fact:Less than six percent of the homeless are homeless by choice.

Myth:They don’t work.
Fact:30% of the homeless are employed on a full-time or part-time basis. Someone who works full-time at a minimum-wage job takes home about $900.00 per month and is at great risk for homelessness. Many people in the Grand Traverse Region pay 50%-60% of their income for housing.

Myth:They are to blame for their own situation.
Fact:Most homeless people are victims. Some have suffered from child abuse or domestic violence. 20% are children. Many are mentally ill. Many have lost their jobs after years of employment. All have lost their homes.

Myth:They are dangerous.
Fact: In general, the homeless are among the least threatening and most vulnerable group in our society. If anything, they are the victims of crimes, not the perpetrators.

Myth:The homeless are only in large urban areas.
Fact:The homeless are found not only in large cities, but in small towns, rural areas, and affluent suburbs. There are many homeless in northern Michigan.

Myth:The homeless are uneducated and unemployable
Fact:Many homeless people have completed high school; some have attended college and even graduate school.

What Can A Concerned Neighbor Do To Help?

  • Speak and think kindly of people experiencing homelessness — it’s a difficult situation, is not a chosen condition, and rarely self-inflicted
  • Refer someone who is homeless or at risk of homelessness to the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency (947-3870) for housing search and assistance.
  • Refer someone to the Goodwill Inn (922-4890) if emergency shelter is what’s needed.
  • Donate personal hygiene or personal care items to the Goodwill Inn or other shelters.
  • Donate time, talent, or money to the work of non-profits addressing issues of homelessness.

Goodwill, along with several other provider agencies working through the Greater Grand Traverse Continuum of Care, strives to improve services for people who are homeless while working collaboratively with the community at large to bring an end to homelessness.

Your donation today will provide shelter, food, support and hope to area individual and families experiencing homelessness. Donate Now!


Contact the Goodwill Inn
Phone 231-922-4890
For directions to the Goodwill Inn, click here