GR to clear Heartside Park tent city after overflow shelter opens

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Organizers on Wednesday worked to prepare a temporary overflow homeless shelter in the site of a former smoke shop in downtown Grand Rapids.

The former Purple East building at 250 Ionia Ave. SW should be ready to go by the end of the week and is expected to be open for the next five months. At 30,000 square feet, it will be able to house as many 100 adults each night.

It’s just across from Heartside Park, where a homeless camp of at least 40 tents recently popped up. Once the overflow shelter opens, those tents will be cleared.

The city told News 8 that camping in a city park is a violation of city ordinance and up to now, police had been looking the other way.

Officials say that once the shelter is open, it will tell those living in the camp that they have 48 hours to move. After that, the city will throw away any tent still standing.

Most the people living at the park told News 8 on Wednesday that they don’t want to go to the shelter, saying they don’t want to have to obey its rules or prefer their independence. One man said he will simply move his tent elsewhere.

“I’ve got another place that I can camp. I know all the spots in the greater Grand Rapids area,” the man, David, said.

The city of Grand Rapids is footing the bill for rent for the overflow shelter; Guiding Light is chipping in with money, food, clothes and other essentials; and Mel Trotter Ministries is running day-to-day operations at the site.

“I am happy for the City to be a partner in this project,” Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington said in a statement.  “It is not safe for people to live on the streets and in our parks. Expanding emergency shelter and providing a warm place during the day will ensure the safety of our most vulnerable residents.”

Mel Trotter Ministries and Guiding Light prepare a homeless shelter overflow area in the former Purple East building in downtown Grand Rapids. (Dec. 16, 2020)

Officials said while winter is always dangerous for those who are homeless, the problem is compounded this year by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Once the winter conditions happen and with COVID and all the restrictions in place, there’s going to be a bottleneck for services and we’re going to end up seeing people with severe frostbite, hospitalizations, death,” Robb Munger, president of Exodus Place transitional housing program, previously told Target 8.

Mel Trotter is already housing about 425 people nightly at its main shelter nearby on Commerce Avenue SW. It says it is helping people staying at both the shelter and overflow site look for permanent housing.

Donations to help the homeless may be made to Mel Trotter and Guiding Light, or to Degage Ministries, online.

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