‘Win-win’: GR homeless family shelter gets OK

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Planning Commission on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a plan to turn Holland Home’s Fulton Manor into temporary emergency shelter for homeless families with children.

“It does seem like a win-win situation to me to be able to provide a need for these families seeking shelter and make use of a building that’s going to be sitting vacant otherwise,” said Rick Treur, a member of the Grand Rapids Planning Commission who also lives in the neighborhood where Fulton Manor is located.

Holland Home, which said the building is no longer suited for assisted living, transitioned the last seniors living there to other facilities in November. Over the next year, it will decide what to do in the long term with the building at 1450 Fulton St., east of Fuller Avenue.

In the meantime, Family Promise of Grand Rapids will lease the building and use it to provide temporary housing shelter for up to 116 homeless families. It will have on-site case management and 24-hour security services. 

The agency will begin accepting homeless families in January.

>>PDF: Fulton Manor shelter details

The nonprofit, which works to find long-term housing for families in crisis, estimates that on any given night in Kent County, between 100 and 120 families are living on the streets in unsafe conditions.

“The families we’re talking about are hardworking,” said Cheryl Schuck, the executive director of Family Promise, in her speech before the Planning Commission. “They’re just going to work and school and trying to keep their kids safe.”

Family Promise is working in collaboration with the Salvation Army, the Inner City Christian Federation, Mel Trotter Ministries, Degage Ministries, the GR Area Coalition to End Homelessness, the United Way, the city, county, state and multiple community foundations.

While the housing boom in West Michigan has been positive for many families, it has pushed rents so high that lower-income families can no longer afford housing. The crisis came to a head in October when dozens of homeless families were forced from hotels after emergency funding ran out. Multiple housing agencies then came together to search for solutions, coming up with Fulton Manor as one short-term fix.

>>PDFs: Site plan | Aerial images

The complex is located on the edge of the Eastown neighborhood, in a mixed residential zone that’s described as medium density. The Planning Commission got some two dozen letters from neighbors about the project. While the majority were positive, there were four or five in opposition. Neighbors expressed concern about the potential for increased crime, parking deficits and traffic congestion.

One person, a neighbor who said her property backs up to Fulton Manor, spoke against the plan at the commission meeting.  

“It becomes a problem for me and my property values,” said the neighbor, who only gave her first name, Libby. “I don’t think any of you would buy a home behind a homeless shelter. I would have purchased a home if I knew there was going to be a homeless shelter there.”

One letter writer expressed concern about the impact on several nearby schools.

“How advisable is it to house SO MANY desperate people next to two elementary schools and a college campus?” the neighbor wrote. “Panhandling on the street behind the building already occurs.”

The same writer questioned whether there’d be “many people loitering and wandering through the residential streets.”

But among those who wrote letters of support were St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School, William C. Abney Academy, the Midtown Neighborhood Association and the Eastown Community Association. Individual neighbors wrote support letters. too:

“I believe that our faith instructs us to welcome the ‘stranger,’ be it refugee or immigrant or homeless family…”

“What an amazing opportunity to be a blessing to those who need a little help.”

“It’s a joy for our family that this is coming to our neighborhood.”

“This is a great opportunity to alleviate some real suffering this holiday season.”

An Aquinas College spokesperson gave the following statement on the plans for Fulton Manor: 

“Aquinas College is aware of the plans for Fulton House. We have been in communication with Family First about their plans and will continue to talk with them. As a college, our focus is on continuing to enable and empower our faculty, staff and students to learn and prepare for careers that make a difference in the world.”

Family Promise predicts it will cost anywhere from $700,000 to $1 million to run the shelter for a year. United Way has already committed $100,000, and the state and several foundations are expected to kick in, too.

Over the next 12 months, multiple housing agencies are coming to the table to make plans for more long-term, sustainable support for families facing homelessness in Kent County.

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