GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — John Schlotter spent part of Monday, as he does many days, behind a West Side liquor store.
Sitting against an outside wall next to the back door, he ate dried ramen noodles for lunch.
Schlotter, who is homeless, said he had heard about the brutal death on Oct. 19 of Santino Ysasi not far away, behind the now-closed Saint James Catholic Church on Bridge Street NW. Ysasi, who was homeless, stayed behind the church.
“He didn’t deserve to die,” Schlotter said.
Police say the death of the 46-year-old father of five, ruled a homicide, remains unsolved.
“It makes me very nervous,” Schlotter said.
The death led Grand Rapids police to warn the homeless to stay in shelters, or, if they are on the streets, not to stay alone at a time when advocates say homelessness is growing on the city’s West Side. Police recommended the “buddy system.”
“It doesn’t work that way,” Schlotter said, at least not for him.
He likes to be alone and on the streets.
“You ever been in a shelter?” he asked.
Elmer Garrett sometimes stays on the street. When the weather turns bad, though, he stays with family.
“All my friends call me Fudd,” he said.
Garrett said he knew the victim well, sometimes hung out with him outside Saint James and drank beer with him not long before the death.
“They camped out at the back of that church,” he said. “That’s their choice to go to the shelter, or stay out here and put their life at that risk.”
Tony, who spent part of Monday at a West Side park, said he prefers sheltering at Mel Trotter Ministries, though he said he feels safe in Grand Rapids.
“I think that’s good advice to stay off the streets,” Tony, who asked to be identified only by his first name, said. “That’s what I do.
“Always be with somebody,” he continued. “You don’t want to be by yourself, and you don’t want to carry cash.”
Not far away on the West Side, a large crowd gathered Monday outside Matthew’s House Ministry, on Alpine Avenue and Seventh Street NW, where the homeless can get free lunch, clothes and groceries. Those who run the program say it’s busier than ever. In the past, the program fed lunch to 35 to 50 people a day, said Matthew’s House Assistant Director Reginald Lott. Now, that’s up to 45 to 65.
“It caught us by surprise, because now we have to make more lunch because we have more people,” Lott said.
“I know the police have talked about the buddy system, which I think is a good way to try to stay safe, but a lot of individuals, they don’t like the rules and regulations that go along with being in a shelter, so you kind of run the risk of either freezing to death or being attacked in your sleep, or robbed,” Lott said.
He said the victim Ysasi, who was estranged from his wife and children, ate lunch most days at Matthew’s House, once stayed in the ministry’s transitional housing and was well-known there.
“The severity of it and just the callousness, we just hope whoever did this is caught,” Lott said.
“It was a loss for the community, period,” he said. “We try to make people saints after they pass away. Not all of them are worthy of that, but Santino did care about people. He was willing to give you whatever he had if you needed it. He just had a problem drinking.”
The Grand Rapids Police Department Major Case Team is still investigating. Anyone with information on the killing is asked to contact GRPD detectives at 616.456.3380 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345.