Camp destroyed, community comes to aid of homeless

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Donations poured in after a powerful storm destroyed a homeless camp on the northeast side of Grand Rapids.

In the campsite tucked behind the trees, Pete Jensen and eight others were left to weather the storm’s wrath with little to no shelter. 

“When I looked up, I could just see (tree) limbs going everywhere in a circle above us,” Jensen said. “You could hear trees hitting the ground where it shook the entire ground around us.”

It’s a story Jensen didn’t know if he would live to tell.

“I was probably going to die, that’s all I could think,” he said. “I’ve never seen weather like that in my life.” 

homeless camp storm damage
A Grand Rapids homeless camp that was destroyed in Wednesday’s storm. (Sept. 12, 2019)

Jensen and his friends, who are homeless, had been camping out in that spot for nearly three months until the storm hit Wednesday evening. The powerful winds and toppling trees destroyed the little they had.

“When the tent came down, I didn’t know what else to do because we were trying to find shelter but we don’t have nowhere else because we live in our tents,” Jensen told News 8 Thursday.

homeless camp storm damage
Pete Jensen sits in the wreckage of a Grand Rapids homeless camp that was destroyed in Wednesday’s storm. (Sept. 12, 2019)

Sara Blue with mental health and substance abuse aid group Unlimited Alternatives was quick to step in, posting a request for donations of sleeping bags, tents and clothing on Facebook.

The community responded in a big way, with dozens of donations rolling in Thursday.

“This morning I was picking up donations … we had lines of people by my door just giving and being generous all day,” Blue said.

The donations came from individuals and organizations.

“Just to help,” Bryan Holt of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services said as he was dropping off tents and other supplies. “This was just automatic for us.”

Blue said the outpouring of support is deserved and appreciated.

“Everyone here has been crying and ecstatic and hugging each other all day, because something that was a tragedy really turned into a blessing because of the community,” Blue said.

The unexpected kindness had Jensen and his tent city neighbors overwhelmed with emotion.

“I didn’t realize that there was that many people in the community that cared about us,” Jensen said. “Because sometimes we get looked at like the degenerates of society when we’re not bad people.”

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