GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — On the corner of Cass Avenue and Pleasant Street on the Southeast side of Grand Rapids sits an inconspicuous home. It is old and well maintained with two tones of brown that make up the outside, a light and dark.

The home has become a neighborhood symbol for what it helped create, a network built on bricks of dignity and hope.

“This house is very special to us for, you know, the passion that it represents, by the person who actually created the whole concept of Well House,” said John Glover, the executive director of Well House.

The concept for Well House is quite simple. It was created by founder Marian Clements back in 1977, when she purchased that corner lot home to end homelessness through housing. Well House buys rundown houses and brings them back to life through the generosity of helpful volunteers and a dedicated staff.

It’s what Clements did 45 years ago.

“We recognize that the folks that we serve are our neighbors, they’re our family, our friends,” Glover said. “When Marian Clements opened this house in 1978, she opened it up to people from the community who were experiencing homelessness.”

Clements used the home as a way to give back to others and help them back on their feet, similarly to the help she was shown in her own journey. In 1991, the home directly across the street was donated by the neighbor and Well House doubled in size. Another home just down the street was given to them by the city a year later.

Today, Well House has four homes on Cass Street and operates a 15 house footprint across Grand Rapids. It is their greatest need, acceptance in the community.

“The second greatest need is resources that are targeted towards expanding the number of houses that are available for folks in this income category. That’s the only way to solve this issue is to create more units that are safeguarded for a population that has a minimal level of income and … create permanency,” Glover said.

What makes Well House unique, Glover says, is the fact that they are permanent, low-cost housing that doesn’t turn people away based on gender, race, family composition or background. He says there is a difference between affordable housing and low-cost housing, and that while affordable housing serves a major purpose and has made great strides in Grand Rapids, he’d like to see more low-cost housing for the people they serve.

“Getting the message that this could happen to any of us is, it’s a difficult thing because who wants to think about being that vulnerable? But the reality is the people that we’ve housed over the years are people who work 40, 50 hours a week, have children in school and then they get hit with something that really just knocks them off their balance, and that happens to anybody,” Glover said. “I think the biggest challenge for the people that we serve is that they get hit so many times that they run out of resources: and by resources, I don’t mean just money, I mean, people. People that they can lean on.”

Well House is not a service program, and yet they have found a way to provide much more than a house to those experiencing homelessness for 12 months or longer. When a tenant is handed the keys to their own place, after living so long with no where to call home, it is an emotional moment of restoring hope and dignity in their lives.

“It’s a return to normalcy for folks and it’s a, it’s a recognition that we see them. We see them,” Glover said. “We strive really hard to … create a space where our tenants understand that we respect them. And, you know, we don’t see them as different from anyone else.”

While he’s seen it’s not always a happy ending, the homes for the most part are stepping stones to security in health, finance, jobs and family.

“The idea of scattered-site housing is not a new one. I mean other cities have tried it. This is different because of the way the houses are position; where they’re positioned, how they’re positioned and more importantly, because we enter into neighborhoods with welcoming energy of the neighborhoods that we walk into,” Glover said. “In other words, we don’t just create a structure and then put people in and then tell the neighbors deal with it. We actually talked to our community and we let them know what we’re doing head of time.”

He says this leads to neighborhood buy in and a strong sense of community. They put together activities for tenants, neighbors and the greater community and see a nice mix of the group in praticipation.

This month, on March 25, they’re throwing their Spring Jubilee of Growth. It’s a night to learn more about the impact their staff and volunteers have on the community while enjoying a fun evening of celebration, and helping the organization continue towards its mission of making sure everyone has dignity and hope in a place to call home.

“In Grand Rapids, the unhoused issue is very solid. This is a community that is rich in terms of goodwill, rich in terms of resources, rich in terms of people with the skillsets and the education to address the issue properly,” Glover said. “It is solvable here and if we can solve it here, we can show, we can create a model for other cities.”

Learn more about Well House and their mission at wellhousegr.org.