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‘We don’t want them to be out in the cold’: Warming centers open for people experiencing homelessness

‘We don’t want them to be out in the cold’: Warming centers open for people experiencing homelessness
Posted at 9:26 PM, Feb 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-05 21:49:07-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.  — With snow continuing to fall throughout the weekend and temperatures dipping into the teens, several warming centers opened around the city.

One of them was Dégagé Ministries located at the intersection of Division Avenue and Cherry Street in the downtown area.

“Every year we want to be available to our men and women. We do not want them to be out in the cold,” said Executive Director Thelma Ensink during a Zoom interview on Friday. “We’re open every day, and we coordinate our hours with God’s Kitchen. So, when they’re open, we’re closed so we can sanitize and restock. Then when they’re closed, we’re open.”

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Ensink said one thing that’s new this year is they opened their Open Door Women’s Center for women experiencing homelessness and houselessness. It’s going to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We did this because of COVID,” she said. “We really just wanted to make sure it was a place for them to be where they could stay separate and not be as exposed.”

Ensink added that their facilities are places where they can not only get warm but grab some coffee, eat a meal, get winter clothing and other necessities.

She said they're considered an emergency center, so they offer a variety of resources to meet people's short-term and long-term needs.

“I was just talking with a young man a couple of days ago--he’s probably only in his late 20s--and he was showing me his feet. He just showed me he was already getting frostbite, and he was trying to wear his girlfriend’s boots,” Ensink recalled. “So, he’s here trying to get connected to getting some dry boots and some dry socks so that he can face the elements.”

Friday afternoon, as heavy snow blanketed the city, GRFD Lt. Michael Waldron knocked on the door of a local Alano Club to see how many people were there and find out what they’re offering as a warming center. He’s acting captain of the new Homeless Outreach Task Force with the City of Grand Rapids.

He said they’re out in the snow every day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. meeting with people and helping to meet their needs.

“There are some warming centers in each quadrant of the city. There’s some that people are very familiar with and asking to use, like Mel Trotter and Guiding Light and some of those downtown. They’re amazing agencies,” Lt. Waldron said. “And, as young as the Homeless Outreach team is--we started back in April [2020]--this is going to be our first adventure out into the snow. We’re fortunate that we’ve spent the last 8-10 months building relationships with people that are living outside of shelters.”

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Lt. Waldron said he can’t force anyone into shelters or force them to get help. However, the team--which consists of two firefighters, two police officers, a sergeant, two social workers and two recovery coaches--tries to give them the resources they need, even making phone calls with them on the spot.

“We’ve all been in different situations. The police officers have been in situations that are hairy. Firefighters were not real smart all the time. We run into burning buildings,” Lt. Waldron said jokingly. “We care about people. The social workers, the recovery coaches...they’ve been through stuff. They’ve seen stuff. But, as a team, we recognize this is a completely different calling.”

Lt. Waldron said he’s grateful to be a part of the team, which works with organizations like Dégagé to make sure people experiencing homelessness are taken care of.

Ensink said they’re grateful for all of their volunteers and for the people who donate items and clothing to their clients. They’re always in need of coats, boots, gloves and other things. Meijer gave them $1,000 on Thursday for Dégagé to spend on boots.

She said everyone’s generosity helps them help others.

“This is how we’re going to get through this pandemic and through this cold weather is to work together and to come together as a community,” Ensink said. “We’re so very grateful.”

Warming Centers:

  • Crossroads Bible Church | 800 Scribner Ave. NW | 9a-1p, Saturday and 9a-3p, Monday through Friday
  • Degage Ministries | 114 S. Division Ave. | 7a-11:30a and 2p to 7p daily | Open Door offered 24 hours a day
  • Exodus Place | 322 Front Ave. SW | 9a-9 p daily
  • Heartside Ministries | 54 S. Division Ave. | 9a-12p and 1p- 4p, weekdays
  • Mel Trotter Ministries | 225 Commerce Ave. SW | 7a-3:30p, daily
  • Mel Trotter Ministries at Purple East | 250 Ionia Ave. SW | 8:30a-6p, daily

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