Homelessness has been growing here in West Michigan. COVID-19, the downturn in the economy and loss of jobs have all contributed to many more people, and families, finding themselves out on the street. Winter is really here, so where does one go when safety and shelter are a basic need?

Help is on the way as a coalition of community, nonprofit and business leaders has joined forces to provide safe emergency shelter for residents of the Heartside neighborhood who are experiencing homelessness.

An alliance led by Mel Trotter Ministries and Guiding Light, and including the City of Grand Rapids and Kris Elliott of Evergreen Companies, has leased space at 250 Ionia Ave. SW in downtown Grand Rapids to accommodate what experts are saying 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.

“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.

Mel Trotter Ministries, which currently has capacity to house 425 individuals nightly, will manage day-to-day operations at 250 Ionia.

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

They do need our help. The public-private partnership is seeking funds to offset the costs 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.


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