Between her business, Kids Empowered, which offers coaching and counseling, and her non-profit, Kids Empowered On The Move, that held conferences before pivoting since the pandemic, Kimber Bishop-Yanke was already helping others when she heard about a young woman sleeping in her car during the polar vortex and felt she had to take action.
“I ended up spending the next two months trying to keep her out of the cold,” said Bishop-Yanke, who discovered Oakland County lacked services for people who are homeless. “I was told, ‘Call these 10 numbers and these 10 numbers.’ It’s like a hamster wheel.”
So, the Birmingham resident reached out to local politicians like former state Rep. Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills), which led to a community meeting. “I was upset about how the homeless were being treated,” she said.
It turned out that state Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac) wanted to start a local task force for poverty and homelessness – and Bishop-Yanke was asked to help. “A couple of weeks later, I saw on Facebook that I was the chair of the task force,” she said.
Though the newly-established Oakland County Poverty and Homelessness Task Force remains a grassroots effort, it aims to increase public awareness and break down some of the barriers people in poverty and homelessness face and identify legislative issues.
Bishop-Yanke contacts local organizations to help people in need, like a Pontiac teacher who had been washing kids’ clothing at home. “We got a washer and dryer for the school,” she said. “Of course, it got delivered the day the schools shut down during the pandemic.”
She also works with other volunteers and organizations to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to 250 food-insecure families. As she explained, there can be roadblocks to assistance, like people that don’t have cars to get to food banks, where the hours can also conflict with their jobs.
In some cases, furniture and bedding have been delivered as well. “It’s been shocking to learn how many kids don’t have beds,” said Bishop-Yanke, who has two sons and a stepdaughter.
Other efforts include everything from helping with temporary housing in local hotels to a book buddy reading program.
She remains frustrated by the fact that a person in crisis has to contact multiple organizations to get help and that assistance can be impractical, like needing checks to cover apartment application fees that take weeks to receive when the apartment will no longer be available.
“We don’t have this sort of triage, like, ‘Let’s get you set up and see how we can help you,’” Bishop-Yanke noted. “It’s like banging your head against the window. We get dejected from all the rejections and we have food and shelter.”
Despite all the setbacks, she has had success along the way, like raising enough money to cover babysitting costs for one local mom while she earns her GED, and getting a new home for another who had black mold and holes in her trailer.
Whether it’s a kid without a birthday cake or a person who needs a ride, the requests are many. “We can’t meet all the needs, but we don’t have to have meetings,” said Bishop-Yanke. “We just do what needs to be done.”
Still, she asked, “As a community, how do you get Oakland County as a whole to take responsibility for these issues? I feel as citizens we need to be involved and help with the solution.”
Those who can lend a hand can contact her through kidsempoweredonthemove.org.
Story: Jeanine Matlow
Photo: Laurie Tennent