New winter shelter for unhoused Grand Rapids residents


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Kay Keller, Staff Writer

When the weather gets colder and the snow hits the ground, staying outside can become dangerous, very quickly. But Grand Rapids has a large community of unhoused residents who don’t have the means to escape the frigid winter.

The Grand Rapids City Commission is pairing with Mel Trotter Ministries in order to help solve that problem. The Commission approved a $330,000 agreement to improve and expand current overnight shelters.

“We have more room for support for this because the truth of it is this shelter is not in the Mel Trotter budget, but we know we have to do this because we feel a responsibility to make sure anyone seeking shelter in the winter finds it,” said Mel Trotter Ministries President and CEO Dennis Van Kampen.

This agreement will help to increase access to overnight shelters, include storage areas for belongings and run daily operations. In addition, the shelter will be “low barrier,” meaning some traditional shelter rules are removed and more accommodations will be made.

They’ll also be adding in laundry facilities and quiet rooms. In addition, the ministry will be providing a range of programs and services they said will help their guests out of homelessness.

“We will provide storage for anyone that’s on the streets that doesn’t have a place to store their stuff, even if they aren’t staying here overnight,” Van Kampen said. “We will have lockers and bins where they can store their stuff so they don’t have to carry it everywhere. That’s new this year and we are excited about that.”

Lockers allow guests to have a locked space to put their belongings that traditional shelters don’t offer. There will also be a personal belongings storage program that the facility is piloting. The program will provide secure storage carts in a safe and guarded area. 

Grand Rapids’ Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) was the group to pitch the idea of adding storage. As an organization that interacts with the unhoused population regularly, they’ve realized that storing possessions is a huge issue for people with nowhere to go. 

Having to leave their belongings unattended makes many people uncomfortable, housed or not. It discourages people from going to work, going inside or even staying in shelters that don’t have the space for them. The ministry is hoping that the addition of secure storage will change that.

This shelter will be able to host 75-100 people at a time and the city is working with Mel Trotter Ministry to make sure there’s enough space and beds for all residents. The facility will also (…) encourage more people to not only come inside, but stay as long as they need.

“What happened last year with the pandemic, we knew going into winter due to social distancing, there would not be enough space for everyone who wanted shelter during the winter,” Mel Trotter Ministries President and CEO Dennis Van Kampen said. “So we had to go in search of an overflow shelter.”

The new space is already under construction and is expected to open within the first two weeks of December. Aiming to be closer to the people who need it the most, the shelter’s location will be 200 S. Division Ave. near Cherry Street in downtown Grand Rapids.