Non-profit: 19 housing units available for every single homeless person in Kent County

Nov 18, 2013

A non-profit group in Grand Rapids is re-energizing its effort to get people who are homeless into permanent homes.

Well House has been around since the late 1970s. About a year ago, the non-profit emergency homeless shelter Well House was in danger of closing. That’s when its new executive director Tami VandenBerg pushed the group to switch gears and provide permanent homes instead.

“If you’re in an emergency shelter, it is unbelievably challenging to get a job, take any medications, or stop using or reduce using substances. It’s just virtually impossible,” VandenBerg said.

She did some research, and recently discovered there are 19 housing units available for every one homeless person in Kent County; that’s based on numbers from the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors and the Grand Rapids Coalition to End Homelessness.

“I was shocked,” VandenBerg said of the numbers, “I knew there was a lot of housing but I had no idea that it was that extensive.”

On Monday Well House kicks off a campaign to highlight that, and to raise money to buy more vacant houses to renovate.

“It’s not an issue of we don’t have houses available. We have houses. But for whatever reason, the way we’re arranging ourselves as a society, people are not able to access those houses,” VandenBerg said.

VandenBerg says Well House has very few restrictions. No sobriety test, no employment requirements. All its tenants pay at least $250 dollars a month in rent. It covers gas, electric, water and some food.  

Plus, Well House offer job opportunities to residents.  Many are offered jobs helping to renovate more houses for Well House or farm the plots and orchards the organization maintains.

“I call it the triple threat because we’re getting people off the street. We’re giving them employment opportunities to help fix up houses.  And we’re also doing neighborhood revitalization because we have these homes. The one we just finished had been vacant for years,” VandenBerg said.

Right now the group houses 15 people. There are at least 45 people more on a waiting list.

They own four houses, have purchased a fifth, and have funds to buy and renovate two more by the end of next summer.