Nonprofit wins $475K grant from foundation


Well House’s motto: “The solution to homelessness is housing.” Photo via

A nonprofit has just received its largest donation ever.

Grand Rapids-based Well House said yesterday that it has received a $475,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek.

Well House seeks to create affordable housing opportunities for West Michigan’s homeless community, operating nine houses and five lots for food growth.

The money will be split over three years and used by Well House to create housing, food and employment opportunities.

Specifically, Well House will purchase three new, low-cost shared homes for people living either on the street or in shelters, said Tami VandenBerg, executive director, Well House.

VandenBerg said that Well House is “beyond thrilled” that the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has “once again approved significant funds for our organization's efforts to get people off the street and into safe affordable housing.”

“We believe that everyone in our city should have access to housing, nutritious food and meaningful employment,” she said.

Housing for homeless families and young adults

VandenBerg said Well House has not selected the three new houses, but they will all be on the near southeast side of Grand Rapids.

She recently received the tax list from the Kent County Land Bank, so the selection will be made soon. Well House purchases and brings up to code vacant houses from the Kent County Land Bank Authority.

“Two of the homes will be for families. Two families will live in each house,” VandenBerg said. “They will have their own living areas and share the kitchens and bathrooms. So we will be moving two to three adults and three to five kids into each of those homes.

“The other house is for homeless youth, ages 18-24. These kids will be primarily aging out of foster care or kids living on the streets. We hope to get a duplex that will house five to six youths on any given night.”

Vandenberg said families that are homeless are often separated into different shelters, and children are sometimes placed in foster care.

Well House’s goal is to keep families together, as well as have early intervention for at-risk homeless youth.

“The community has identified a significant gap in housing available for youth aging out of foster care,” Vandenberg said. “Research is showing these kids are at risk of experiencing homelessness on and off for the rest of their lives if there are no interventions early. We plan to be that intervention.”

Urban farm work

Well House also plans to use the grant funds to expand its Well House Urban Farm by providing employment opportunities for its tenants working on the farm and on the rehabilitation of houses.

“We respect the values of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and we likewise feel that people have the inherent capacity to effect change in their lives,” Vandenberg said. “We help people help themselves by providing them the opportunity to live in a place they can afford and to be part of a community.”

Waiting list

VandenBerg became executive director of Well House in January 2013.

Since then, 68 people have been moved from homelessness into permanent housing, and 88 percent of those people have stayed at Well House or relocated to other housing of their own choice.

At any point in time, Well House has a waiting list of about 40-45 applicants, and it has received more than 320 applications since 2013.

Some homelessness in Grand Rapids is tied to a lack of affordable housing, Vandenberg said.  

Well House offers a single room for $275, making it a low-cost option for a city with rising rent cots.

“The average one-bedroom apartment is $700-$800 per month, plus utilities,” Vandenberg said. “Someone working full time for minimum wage earns $1,300 each month before taxes. They would have to work 79 hours per week in order for housing costs to be at the recommended 30 percent of total income.” 

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