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More women needing homeless shelters in Grand Rapids

Garry Knight

More women than ever before are showing up at homeless shelters in Grand Rapids, many of them are older women who’ve never experienced this before

For homeless single women in Grand Rapids, Degage Ministries is their only option for emergency shelter.

In 2020, the nonprofit served an average of 33 women in peak times. This year they’re seeing up to 125 women a night, and trying to find a way to squeeze in as many as they can.

“We are serving more women than we have ever served in our history.”

Executive director Thelma Ensink says many of the women they’re seeing are experiencing homelessness for the first time. A third are over the age of 62.

“We’re seeing our seniors who have worked hard their whole lives and have earned Social Security not be able to afford a place to live just because of our housing crisis and how expensive the rental market is.”

Ensink says in 2023 as needs increased, donations decreased and the agency is struggling to do more with less.

“Many times women do come into shelter with only the clothes on their backs. Some of our really specific needs are a pair of pajamas, having women’s pajamas in all sizes available, having enough towels, twin sheets for their beds, washcloths.”

She says all the local agencies that help the unhoused are seeing the same high numbers and asking for more help as the coldest time of winter sets in.

“We want to make sure no one is outside, no one’s cold, no one’s without a place to shelter.”

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