GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Whenever Trev Gibson talks about the dozens of men and women experiencing homelessness in Heartside Park, he calls them friends.
“They are my friends. I love everybody. We’re just here to help,” Gibson said during an interview with Fox 17 on Monday. “Our friends have been doing this for a long time. And, for the city just to come and be like ‘y’all got to go somewhere,’ I want to be able to help them.”
He said friendship is truly what Family Over Everything is building. He’s vice president of the organization and said that over the summer, through their activism in the Black Lives Matter movement, they met and befriended many people experiencing homelessness and houselessness. So, when they learned that the city put out a “No Trespassing” order on Friday for Heartside Park, they rented U-Haul and have been helping people relocate since.
“Our neighbors here at Heartside Park are awesome. I give them hugs and embrace [them],” said Deedee Chaunte, president of Family Over Everything. “They’re so nice. They take care of each other. They take care of us. I don’t know how many times somebody has seen some gloves and been like ‘Deedee you don’t have gloves, let me give you this.’ And I’m like ‘no, I don’t want to take it from you.’ And they’re like ‘no, you’re not taking from us, you’re giving to us by being here, let us give back to you.’”
Chaunte said when they arrived a few days ago, Heartside Park, which is located along Route 131 in the downtown area, had over 150 people in it. By Monday morning, many were relocated. Several community organizations, including Justice For Black Lives, were there along with people from the City of Grand Rapids and a few police officers assisting people experiencing homelessness with moving and relocating to shelters and other places.
“We’re doing what we can to try and find healthy, safe, warm alternatives for people,” said David Green, the city’s director of communication, during a Zoom interview. “This isn’t just a matter of us trying to go in and rush and clear the park of people. That’s not the intent of this.”
Green said some were moved to Mel Trotter Ministries, which is located directly across from Heartside Park. Due to a large amount of funds that were allocated to the city's partners, Mel Trotter opened additional space in the old Purple East building which typically serves as a warming center during the day but people can now stay overnight.
However, he added that people needed to leave Heartside immediately. The health department walked through the park last week and and found some significant issues with sanitation and safety.
“There were people who were using butane and propane heaters within the tents for instance blocking off ventilation to the tents, which all causes an asphyxiation risk,” Green said. “There was a significant number of instances they identified that let us reinforce and reiterate what we had already been saying, which is the camp is probably not the most conducive and safe place for people to be right now.”
Chaunte said he wished the city gave them more time to help the people find housing and get them the other resources they need. Everyone they’ve met wanted to be helped.
“They’re not just sitting here ‘cause they want to,” Chaunte said. “Most people here, we’ve experienced they want to be out of here. They want help. They want stable housing. They want a job. They want to be able to care of their unborn children and their born children.”
Chaunte said they’ve helped a few pregnant women find housing. And, if anyone was experiencing COVID symptoms, they got them to a hotel dedicated to COVID patients so that they can recover. However, ultimately, Family Over Everything wants to see everyone experiencing homelessness out of that phase and on their feet.
“We all go through bad times in life and I feel like we come out of that storm,” Gibson said. “So, this is just a storm that some people are in right now. And we’re helping them, only if they want too, we’re helping them get out of that storm.”