Grand Rapids shelters try to balance COVID-19 restrictions with helping homeless

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With the freezing temperatures here and expected to hang around for a while, warming centers are opening their doors.

“We see probably 150 people on an average day,” Gregory Randall, executive director of Heartside Ministry, a shelter near downtown Grand Rapids, said. “When the weather’s bad like this, it can be 200 to 250.”

When the thermostat takes a dip, it adds a challenge for an often forgotten population.

“You’re out there all day and you’re cold,” said Chris, who goes to the shelter at 54 S. Division Ave. to catch a break. “And you come in here and you get a hot cup of coffee. It’s a blessing. It’s like the weight of the world off your shoulders.”

Heartside Ministry has had to limit the number of bodies in the building to combat the spread of coronavirus but that doesn’t mean the welcome is any different.

“It makes it especially difficult during the COVID times because we want to make sure we have enough social distancing,” Randall said. “Each one is special and we want to make sure they’re treated with dignity and respect. And whoever comes in here, we try to treat that way.”

Heartside, which has been operating 38 years, tries to keep those coming through the door on a positive trajectory.

“You kind of walk alongside them,” he said. “So when they suffer, we suffer.”

Mel Trotter will have outreach teams going out to make sure anyone who needs shelter will be able to find it.

“We’ve gotten some calls from concerned community members saying, ‘Hey, I’ve noticed that there are some people who are living under the bridge in this location’ or ‘they’re living in this alleyway,'” said Adrienne Goodstal, vice president of community engagement at Mel Trotter. “I would say as a concerned community person, please contact us so we can go out and look for that individual.”

For Chris and his peers, shelters act like a base of operations to warm up between each move, hoping the next one is an improvement.

“It’s a blessing,” Chris said. “A deep blessing for everybody. So I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.”

Heartside is taking donations. New winter clothing is a hot commodity right now so those trying to restart their lives can do it during all seasons.

“We’re all about second chances and third chances,” Randall said. “That’s just the kind of environment we try to have here.”

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