GR homeless advocates organize protest calling for services

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Advocates for the homeless will protest in Grand Rapids Tuesday morning, asking for more services.

Organizers say the population in the city is facing additional challenges during the pandemic and are calling on local leaders to address the issues.

Earl Walter, a homeless resident of Grand Rapids, says there are not enough places for people to go for services.

“They want to help people. They (are) not helping no people at all. That’s why people are right here now, laying down in the streets,” Walter said.

Sara Blue, an advocate for the homeless, says the resources that do exist are stressed even more because of COVID-19 and the economic impact.

“A lot of the services have been restricted — Places that people would go to be able to take showers or do their laundry, get like crisis intervention, food,” Blue said.

Shelly Demull, one of the organizers of the Tuesday morning protest, says she is concerned about parks being cleared and homeless encampments being removed.

“Where can the homeless go who don’t have a house when the shelters are too full,” Demull said.

The Grand Rapids police and fire departments have created a Homeless Outreach Team. Raul Alvarez, a spokesperson for GRPD, provided this statement to News 8:

The reality with COVID(-19) is that places that individuals who are experiencing homelessness would normally go to seek refuge, namely libraries, churches and even restaurants are no longer available to them. Our police department continues to offer a multitude of services for these individuals, which includes the creation of the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) program, a collaboration between the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) and the Grand Rapids Fire Department (GRFD). Through this program, we continually work with individuals who are experiencing homelessness to provide a variety of assistance, including food, shelter and emergency medical care. We feel that we are a part of the solution for our most vulnerable residents and strive to continually work with other community partners to address the systemic problems of poverty and homelessness in our community.

In our police department’s three-year strategic plan draft, which will be formally presented to Commissioners at Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting, Chief Eric Payne outlines an extension of this work and includes a co-response model that integrates permanent behavioral health professionals into the HOT. This is the first strategy under priority number 2, Innovation, and includes the following action items:

-Increase the number of police officers assigned to ensure adequate coverage.
-Work to integrate permanent behavioral health professionals into the team.
-Determine appropriate types of calls for co-response based on team safety and pilot alternative response strategies.
-Identify and provide appropriate training for team members.

This comprehensive approach will allow us to continue addressing this important issue and helping individuals who are experiencing homelessness in a more robust, effective manner. As part of our strategic plan process, we welcome feedback from the community and would invite anyone interested to participate in this feedback process. This process will be outlined during Tuesday’s presentation and will be available on the City’s website following the COW meeting.

Protest organizers say the efforts are not enough and many homeless people are not being treated fairly.

“The homeless are being pushed out of all of the places that they congregate. They’re putting fencing up. They’re putting homeless spikes up and that doesn’t make the homeless disappear. So, what we want from the city is we’re asking this: Who do we talk to, to make a change?” Blue said.

GRPD’s spokesman also says some spots at the underpass at Leonard Street have been fenced off for health reasons due to unsanitary conditions and it was not do with any malicious intent.

The protest begins at 7 a.m. outside city hall and, according to organizers, has been permitted through the city.

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