GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the weather changes in West Michigan, so does the needs of the community.

Some Grand Rapids nonprofits are offering resources to help people through the winter months.

CREATING A SAFE PLACE

Nonprofit Mel Trotter Ministries offers overnight shelter for those in need.

Mel Trotter recently opened a new overflow site, located on Cherry Street. The space has a maximum capacity of 75 beds and acts as a warming center during the day.

Adrienne Goodstal, the chief engagement and advocacy officer with Mel Trotter Ministries, said it’s been a great success so far.

Inside Mel Trotter Ministries’ overflow shelter on S. Division Avenue in Grand Rapids. (Dec. 7, 2021)

The nonprofit runs many other shelters, like their men’s shelter, women’s shelter and Pathway Home Family Shelter program. It also offers a public inebriate shelter for people who are very intoxicated, a youth emergency shelter and the R&R space for people who are transgender.

When the weather becomes particularly cold, Mel Trotter goes into “Code Blue.”

“Code Blue really means that anybody that may have not been able to receive services previously, that that is lifted, so they can come in and receive the services, we lift all of our curfews, so people can access emergency shelter any time in the evening,” Goodstal said.

Information about the various shelters Mel Trotter runs can be found on the organization’s website.

Degage Ministries, located at 144 South Division, provides overnight shelter for up to 80 women.

“This time of year we really want to make sure that the people that we serve have a warm and safe place to be,” said Thelma Ensink, the executive director of Degage Ministries. “That’s really important, to make sure that they have a warm, safe place to sleep.”

Degage Ministries offers ways to help people get housing. The nonprofit works to provide things like transportation to jobs or housing appointments, Ensink said.

“(We are) continuing to help as many people as we can moving forward towards housing to have a place to call their own during this time,” she said.

Degage also runs a warming center for anyone who needs it from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. Anyone can stop in at Degage’s warming center to drink a cup of coffee and be in community with others, Ensink says.

To access the other resources it offers, go up to the life enrichment center on the second floor. There, you can meet with an advocate to help you get the resources you need.

CODE BLUE

Starting in October and through the end of December, Mel Trotter has been running their Code Blue Drive, seeking warm items like coats, hats, boots and gloves.

“We partner with various churches and other businesses and things like that, to collect items like warm hats and hand warmers and insulated socks and warm waterproof gloves and all of those types of items that are in such need during the winter months for our guests,” Goodstal said. “We really just want to make sure that we have the items that people need and that it is readily accessible for them.”

She said if you need warm clothing, ask a case manager or staff member.

“Our resources are available to anybody who needs them,” she said. “They can either ask one of our case managers or one of our other staffs when they get there, and then we’ll go in and retrieve that item that they need.”

Mel Trotter is always accepting donations, and they need items through the spring. Their website has a list of ongoing needs.

“We just rely on the support of our community to help us address the needs. So, we just want to thank everyone in advance for helping us get through this winter,” Goodstal said.

Goodstal said when you see people that are unsheltered on the street, to keep in mind the resources they offer.

“We go out and do outreach, especially during the cold, cold evenings, to make sure that people that are living unsheltered have access to our warming center and to our emergency shelters,” she said.

MEETING NEEDS

Degage runs many programs like their dining room, hygiene facilities and offering warm items.

“We are always looking for donations from the community,” Ensink said. “We especially need those gloves and hats and hand warmers and boots and coats, so all of those donations are really important.”

Ensink says part of her job at Degage Ministries is working to “meet the needs of the community.”

“But I also get that wonderful opportunity of speaking directly to the people that we serve, hearing their stories, learning that all of us are just a couple of events away from experiencing homelessness ourselves,” she said. 

She said it takes the community to ensure people are warm and safe this winter.

“I think it’s really important to remember that as all of us are not enjoying the colder months or finding it difficult to be outside. It’s especially difficult for the people that we serve, for the people that are experiencing homelessness,” Ensink said.

Along with donating warm items, you can also give monetary donations. Almost all of the nonprofit’s budget comes from individual donors.

BUILDING COMMUNITY

Nonprofit Urban Family Ministries works to create relationships with families in Grand Rapids.

Their programs are geared towards kids, and along the way create relationships with the whole family, said Noelle Gable, the program director with Urban Family Ministries.

She said they also have the connections to help connect people with the resources they need.

“Connecting people to resources … we don’t give anything away necessarily,” Gable said. “We don’t pay rent, we don’t help pay utility bills, but we know the resources out there that do help with those things. So, we try to connect our families to that too.”

She said one of the families’ biggest needs this winter is help with education for the kids, because some have fallen behind due to COVID-19. Gable said Urban Family Ministries helps connect them with resources like tutors.

She also said the kids are “starving” for face-to-face connection.

“We’re trying to continue with our programs after taking the year of COVID off, we started back this fall with face-to-face programing,” she said.

The nonprofit also offers a poverty simulation to help people understand it better. Everything in the simulation is based on real life examples.

“I can put a name and a face to every situation that we talk about that we go through in that poverty simulation,” Gable said.

It takes a couple of hours to go through.

If you’d like to get involved with Urban Family Ministries, you can volunteer or donate.

“We can’t do what we do if we didn’t have people that believe in what we do and support us monetarily,” Gable said.

If you do volunteer, Gable said your kids are welcome to come along.

“If you want to get involved, bring your whole family. If you have younger kids, bring your kids. They participate in the program that you’re volunteering at, and it helps them get some of that diversity,” she said. “Naturally build that relationship with kid, family and then you can mentor that whole family.”