Officials shut down GR’s Heartside Park tent city

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Grand Rapids on Monday forced homeless men and women at Heartside Park to abandon what had become a growing tent city.

That left some with no place to turn.

Some refuse to live in a mission, some prefer living alone, some don’t like rules and many fear getting COVID-19.

Grand Rapids police, working with other agencies and volunteers, gave them until sunset on Monday to remove their tents.

People gathering at Heartside Park’s basketball court as officials clear the park. (Dec. 21, 2020)

As many as 100 people were living in nearly 50 tents.

After sunset, more than 15 tents were still pitched in the park.

One of the tents still standing belonged to Susan Mulinix Wade, who said she became homeless four months ago. She’s a former real estate agent who sold homes for a local builder.

She said she doesn’t know where she’ll go.

“My bipolar disorder has been really out of control,” she said. “So, I don’t know.”

She’s been living with her boyfriend in the tent at the far south end of Heartside Park.

Susan Mulinix Wade

Her friends call her China doll.

“One thing that people need to understand is, all these people have a story, and if you could understand their story, you could understand their addiction and why they’re homeless,” she said.

She refuses to live in a mission, including the one that just opened across the street at the old Purple East building.

“We can’t go into missions right now. We have a COVID crisis going on. People can’t leave their apartments right now, but they’re making us leave our tents,” Mulinix Wade said.

Homeless men and women started camping at the park about eight weeks ago — driven by COVID-19 and crowded shelters — and the city allowed it, even though it’s against a city ordinance.

It grew to nearly 50 tents and up to 100 people.

“This encampment that’s happened here in the park has devolved to a point that there are significant health and safety issues here,” city spokesman David Green said.

A Kent County Health Department investigation, requested by the city, found it was unsafe and unsanitary.

Grand Rapids city officials clear out tent city at Heartside Park after deeming it unsanitary. (Dec. 21, 2020)

The county said it found human feces in the park, glass pipes and hypodermic needles used for drugs, overflowing port-a-potties, garbage everywhere and potentially deadly use of propane heaters inside tents.

On Monday, as volunteers helped load belongings into U-Hauls, police marked each tent site with spray-painted numbers.

“We can’t make anybody go into a shelter, and that’s not our intent,” Green said. “Our intent is to help them find healthy and safe alternatives to the current environment that is here.”

A man, who goes by Q, had lived in a tent with his wife, who is pregnant. He said he’s an out-of-work builder.

“A lot of us became homeless because of COVID, lost our jobs, wasn’t supposed to get evicted out of our homes, ended up getting evicted out of our homes,” he said.

A Grand Rapids police officer explains why a homeless community at Heartside Park must leave their tents. (Dec. 21, 2020)

Q said he refuses to move to a mission — also because of COVID-19. He’s also not sure where he’ll go.

“I don’t know, find a new campsite somewhere,” he said.

Scott Fulco, an out-of-work welder, lives a few tents down from Q.

“This is my life here. This is what they call a home, I guess,” Fulco said.

It’s been his home, he said, since he moved to Grand Rapids from Bay City to find work. He plans to move into the new mission at the old Purple East.

Courtland Miller had camped under a small pine tree in the park with everything he owns scattered about him.

Courtland Miller clears his tent at Heartside Park in Grand Rapids. (Dec. 21, 2020)

“All I know is this,” he said. “Some people enjoy this. I don’t enjoy this. Look at my hands, they’re turning purple.”

He’s 25, said he has a mental disability. He refuses to live in a mission.

“I have asthma, bronchitis, I can’t risk being around” anyone with COVID-19, he said. “I get bronchitis easily, so that means I could catch Coronavirus easily. I don’t want to be around a lot of people. I seclude myself for a reason.”

“I just don’t know where I’m going to go, man,” Miller said. “I have no family really that wants me around, so I don’t know, man.”

Some wonder if the city could have waited until after Christmas to force them to move.

“You survive and you’re a family and everybody looks out for each other, and it’s the holidays and everybody’s going to be split up,” Mulinix Wade said in tears.

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