GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the warmth of summer is chased away by fall, there is a crisis looming on the streets of Grand Rapids.
And some tough decisions are being made.
“This breaks our hearts to say this … Unfortunately, we have had to, because of staffing limits as well as bed capacity, we’ve had to turn some people away during some of the coldest nights,” said Mel Trotter President and CEO Dennis Van Kampen.
Van Kampen said the number of people seeking shelter from the cold is up 14% this month compared to October of 2022. That translates to 95 more beds than Mel Trotter’s regular 650 bed capacity.
“That includes our families that are here. One hundred and twenty of those beds are reserved for families with children. So we’re talking about babies, toddlers, kids in grade school,” said Van Kampen.
“Our regular beds … we’ve been able to staff at that ratio. And then when it comes time to what we normally do in the winter, which is open up the overflow room with mats on the floor, we don’t have the staff to open that. “
That may be the biggest hurdle.
“Every business is experiencing a shortfall of employees. We can’t hire enough people. And that’s true in our industry as well,” said Van Kampen.
Mel Trotter requires one staff member for every 50 served at the shelter. Many of those needing the services also have drug and mental health issues.
“When we go beyond that, we create an environment that’s not safe for our staff or our guests,” said Van Kampen.
Funding and capacity are also issues.
Talks are ongoing with several organization, including the city of Grand Rapids, about opening emergency overflow shelters. But those shelters would still need staffing.
Yet Van Kampen remains hopeful.
“If there is any community in this country that can actually rally together and solve a crisis like this, it’s West Michigan,” he said.