GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Now a Mel Trotter Ministries employee and living in transitional housing, Gino Heath is proof the cycle of homelessness can be broken.
“I work for the place that saved my life. That’s huge for me,” said Heath, who has been through Mel Trotter’s sobriety and job training programs. “It helps you restore your dignity a lot here. They help build you up versus tearing you down.”
Creating success for people like Heath is one of the ideas behind the $14.9 million renovations at Mel Trotter’s shelter on Commerce Avenue SW south of Fulton Street in downtown Grand Rapids. The group celebrated the renovations with a ribbon-cutting on Thursday morning.
The layout inside Mel Trotter hasn’t changed much since it moved in in 1968. The way it carries out its mission has. The renovations have been years in the making, taking a new approach to homeless housing: less warehouse and more home.
“So two people will have this room and they’ll share it, and then on the other side there’s a room identical to this with two people,” Mel Trotter Ministries President and CEO Dennis Van Kampen explained as he toured the new dorm-like layout.
Two rooms share each bathroom.
Giving someone a little privacy provides them with some dignity. Dignity plays a role in everything from getting help for substance abuse and mental health problems to completing job training and goal setting.
“We found the nicer we make our facilities, the more quickly people move on to their own housing because they finally feel loved and valued and like they’re worthy of something more,” Van Kampen said.
Along with the dorm-style rooms, area hospitals, universities and other community organizations have partnered with Mel Trotter to triple the size of the mission’s medical clinic. There are expanded behavioral health, vision and dental care services.
Mel Trotter’s sobering center, which has been helping keep people fighting addiction stay out of the hospital for the past two decades, has also benefited from the renovations.
“They send providers on site that meet with our guests and they can help them with preventive medicine, they can help them with issues that they might experience and they can also help get them connected to the health system,” Van Kampen said.
The mix of a more dignified approach to housing, physical and mental health care options and job training programs are all part of the goal of getting the homeless off the streets and successfully on their own.
“It really is about meeting people exactly where they are and not prescribing for them what they need to do, but actually figuring out what they want to do. Because you cannot help anyone that doesn’t want help,” Van Kampen said. “Our approach has changed to say why are you here? What are you willing to do to leave here and how can we help you accomplish that?”