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Shelter for Homeless Youth Hosts Open House

Mariano Avila

On any given night there are 200 homeless teens and children in Grand Rapids. Arbor Circle’s Bridge home is a refuge for youth ages 10-17.

Alex is 22 years old. He has a job, he’s finishing his GED, and is on track to achieve his life goals. But when he was 16, Alex’s life took a rough turn when he traded his troubles at home for the troubles of life on the street.

“I spent time sleeping under the highway underpasses, sleeping in public parks. And then I also spent time in these homeless communities. They’re only made up of tents and teepees out in the middle of woods, where no one knows that they’re there. And they were communities of adults and of teen runaways.”

Off the grid, and in nature might sound utopian to campers, but for vulnerable teens without stable housing, they are exactly the opposite.

“Teens are being used to go out and steel, to beat up people. And for the girls they had it the worst, because they were being used for the adult’s pleasures, and they thought that was the only situation they could be at to be able to have a place to stay.”

Eventually, a friend told Alex about Arbor Circle, an organization that helps homeless and runaway youth get their life together. Julie Cnossen, program manager for Arbor Circle:

“We receive about 2500 crisis calls every year from young people ages 10 to about 22 who are in unstable situations and who are calling and seeking support and wondering what the next step looks like”

But for the 200 young, homeless people out there, Arbor Circle only has beds for 15, and the congressional budget sequesters didn’t help their capacity. Again, Julie Cnossen:

“We have partner agencies across the state that literally had to close programing because funding from the federal government wasn’t there. We feel very fortunate, but it has been a very difficult time over the past years.”

Despite the difficulties, Arbor Circle has continued to offer services that extend to young people as old as 24. In the recent open house, visitors were asked to consider giving things, things as basic as soap, underwear, and deodorant.  

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