GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Having his own room in a four-bedroom house is quite a step up for William Genest.
“All the rooms are pretty much furnished,” he pointed out proudly when 24 Hour News 8 visited him Wednesday.
Genest is better known on the street as Billy Bob. After 20 years in prison, he spent a decade living on the street.
“I had no clue on how to live homeless, had no clue. None,” he openly admitted.
That’s how many become what emergency responders call “super users”: people who make frequent calls to emergency services, straining resources. Grand Rapids police told Target 8 the “super users” who make the most calls in their Central City District, which includes the Heartside neighborhood, are homeless men who have problems with alcohol.
“One has to ask, what’s the alternative? If the system doesn’t respond, what is the alternative? These people get increasingly sick. Their needs become severe. They get hospitalized for lengthier periods of time and this is uncompensated care that becomes an even more expensive proposition,” explained John Glover, the executive director of Well House, a nonprofit in Grand Rapids that provides affordable housing for the homeless.
“Super users” can cost the city thousands of dollars per call, so officials and social services groups are working on ways to get them off the street and less reliant on EMS. The idea is to provide more consistent care to make calls to 911 less necessary.
“There are a number of great organizations that are trying to address these issues,” Glover said, pointing to workforce development programs for the homeless.
He did note the efforts could be better coordinated.
Well House recently teamed up with Network180, Kent County’s mental health authority, to not only get people off the street, but also get them help with mental health and substance abuse services.
The program got Genest out of a shelter, into a home and finally receiving Social Security checks.
If Well House hadn’t found him, he says, “I would be six feet under.”
“I have no doubt in my mind,” he continued, “that I would not be alive right now.”
The first house was such a success that Well House and Network180 are working on three more to get a total of 16 people housing and health care, potentially saving millions of dollars in EMS response.