Coalition to provide emergency shelter for Heartside residents

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As West Michigan prepares for winter, a coalition of community, nonprofit and business leaders is joining forces to provide safe emergency shelter for residents of the Heartside neighborhood who are experiencing homelessness.

Mel Trotter Ministries in Grand Rapids said Tuesday that it is co-leading a public-private alliance with Guiding Light that includes the city of Grand Rapids and Kris Elliott, owner of Evergreen Companies, who leased space at 250 Ionia Ave. SW in downtown Grand Rapids to accommodate what could be as many as 100 adults nightly seeking housing in the coming months.

Work has begun to transform the space, which is the former Purple East tobacco shop, into a warming center and overnight shelter for those experiencing homelessness, many of whom are currently staying in tents in Heartside Park and other locations around the city, according to Mel Trotter.

“I am happy for the city to be a partner in this project,” said Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington. “It is not safe for people to live on the streets and in our parks. Expanding emergency shelter and providing a warm place during the day will ensure the safety of our most vulnerable residents.”

The partners are seeking funds to offset the cost of rent, utilities and refurbishment to ensure the 30,000-square-foot facility is ready before the snow flies. Tax-free donations can be made online to Mel Trotter Ministries or Guiding Light.

Dennis Van Kampen Courtesy Mel Trotter Ministries

“Between the coming snows and COVID-19, those experiencing homelessness are more vulnerable than ever this year,” said Dennis Van Kampen, president and CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries. “This is compounded by an anticipated rise in evictions in the coming year, which will put even more people at risk on the streets. Safe affordable housing is increasingly difficult to come by in our community, let alone during these times. We are gratified by the willingness of the public, private and nonprofit sectors to join together to address this immediate need.”

Mel Trotter Ministries, which currently can house 425 individuals nightly, will manage day-to-day operations at 250 Ionia. It also will work with individuals who seek shelter to obtain permanent housing, just as the nonprofit does with those who chose to stay at MTM.

The city of Grand Rapids is providing rent support for the facility. Guiding Light also is providing direct financial support in addition to assistance with clothing, shoes, food and personal care items.

“It is incumbent on all of us with means to ensure those without have the basics this winter — a warm, safe place to sleep, nutritious food to eat and the ability to keep themselves out of harm’s way from COVID-19,” said Stuart Ray, executive director of Guiding Light. “When no one organization owns a problem, nothing gets done — and winter is almost upon us. We lend our full support to this coalition of compassionate community partners who have stepped in to care for those living at the margins of society. They are our neighbors, and they deserve to be treated as such.”

The building is being prepared to accommodate those in need with the hope to have the overflow space operational by the end of the week.

“We are happy to offer our property to Mel Trotter in an effort to get folks off the street and out of the parks in downtown Grand Rapids and assist the organization in the endless work it does for those experiencing homelessness in our community,” Elliott said.

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