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Displaced Oak Park family of 19 facing homelessness as nonprofit help dwindles

Posted at 4:56 PM, Jun 13, 2024

(WXYZ) — An Oak Park family of 19 is on the brink of homelessness and is asking for your help.

The Harris family says they lived in their house for nearly two decades before constant flooding resulted in a mold infestation. After the city deemed their home uninhabitable in February, the family says they have struggled to find a place to stay that's in their budget and able to accommodate their large family.

"Within two days, we had to pack everything up, make the hard decision where to stay? Where can we go? What can we take?" said mother Angel Harris. "It’s hard because you’re going through it and you’re trying to convince your little ones that everything is going to be okay, but you don’t know that. Your job as a parent is to keep everybody safe and when you can’t do that anymore, what do you do?"

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An image shows the building notice placed on the front door of the Harris' home.

Harris says they reached out to several shelters and organizations who wanted to help, but because of the family's size, were unable. Harris also said many homelessness organizations are specifically created for victims of abuse, people struggling with addiction or veterans, which are categories their family does not fit into and would not be able to receive temporary assistance from.

With their back against the wall, the Harris family reached out to some of their kids' former teachers within the Oak Park School district, who jumped at the chance to help. The former teachers connected the family with Kids Empowered on the Move in Oakland County, which placed them at hotel in Auburn Hills. However, the nonprofit says funds currently being used to support the Harris family will deplete by the end of this week.

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A photo shows some of the Harris family children embracing their former teachers from the Oak Park School District

The nonprofit's founder Kimber Bishop-Yanke says the Harris family are just one of many struggling to find affordable housing in the county.

"What people don't realize is we have a lot of hotels that have homeless families in them and if they're paying for their own room then they can't get any help. So they're not considered category 1: literally homeless which means I'm sleeping on the street or a car or in a hotel paid for by an approved nonprofit," said Bishop-Yanke. "We are really trying to bring awareness to this hidden group of homeless families that can't get any help because of the guidelines."

The nonprofit is now asking for help from the community, recently creating a GoFundMe where people can donate. They say they are looking to place the Harris family in temporary housing for six to 12 months before helping them secure a permanent residence with at least five bedrooms.

"I think a lot of people think you call a number and you get help and that's not how it works. Some of these families have been in the hotel for 2 years and we are seeing the mental health crisis and being homeless take some families," said Bishop-Yanke. "I believe we’re the answer: business leaders, faith leaders, community leaders, grassroots."

The Harris family says although the last few months have been incredibly challenging, they're grateful for the people who stepped up when they were in need.

"For all the lows that we went through and all the stress and distraught of the situation, there is hope because we have heroes out there, real life heroes out there and that would be the teachers at Oak Park," said Harris. "Keep the faith. It is light on the other side. It really is and a lot of the storms we go through, it’s going to be uncomfortable. It’s going to be hard. You’re going to want to give up as many times as possible but don’t."

If you'd like to help the Harris family, click here. More information on the nonprofit can also be found on their website.