When people see the word homeless, they typically think of someone living on the streets. However, youth homelessness can present itself in a much different way. One man in Grand Rapids knows what it's like firsthand, and he joined other in helping raise awareness for those in need.
For the last seven days, a green backpack has held Matthew Naylor's life.
“It’s been a long time, so I did struggle with it," he told FOX 17 Sunday night.
Naylor was one of more than 50 people participating in Mel Trotter Ministries' Minimal Living Challenge this week, only surviving off the clothes and toiletries he could fit inside that bag.
“I’m running really low on body wash," Naylor said. "There’s about 2 drops left.”
Mel Trotter Ministries introduced this challenge as a way for people to walk a mile in someone's shoes experiencing youth homelessness.
For Naylor, those are shoes he once wore himself.
“Yes, I have experienced homelessness several times throughout my life," Naylor said.
About eight years ago, living out of a backpack wasn't a choice for Naylor. He was couch surfing in his hometown of Baltimore for about a year before moving to Grand Rapids.
“I was addicted to drugs for a long time," he said. "I spent all my money and I burnt all my bridges. Before you knew it, I found myself with no place to live and absolutely no one to count on.”
Naylor, now 34 years old, has been able to turn his life around. He lives in an apartment with his fiancee and eight year old son. For the last year, he's been working as a Youth Emergency Shelter Case Manager with Mel Trotter Ministries.
Still, he hasn't forgotten his past. That's why he wanted to participate in the challenge.
“With help, I found my way out of homelessness," he said. "I want to pay it forward and help others out of homelessness.”
Ella Beringer, a junior at Grand Valley State, wanted to help as well, so she also chose to live out of that green backpack all week.
“It’s become basically my house," she told FOX 17.
Beringer said this experience made her reconsider the way she lives her own life.
“I realize that there’s quite a few things I could go without, so I’ve actually started collecting things in my own apartment so that I can donate them," Beringer said.
She said it's also given her a fresh perspective on homelessness.
“Basically anyone who doesn’t have that security to go home to a closet and put their clothes in — I learned that it can affect a lot more people than I originally thought," Beringer said.
Naylor and Beringer — two people, each with completely different backgrounds, both working toward the same goal — help the homeless.
“I get joy out of seeing people, in particular youth, escape homelessness and become everything they’ve ever dreamed of.”
The Minimal Living Challenge ends Monday morning. People like Matthew and Ella bring in the green bags and donate everything inside. All items, including the backpacks themselves, will be donated to a young person experiencing homelessness in Kent County.