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Development in Heartside - Part III: The Social Services Perspective

This is the third installment in Michael Tuffelmire and Nick Manes' Heartside Development series. After the first two articles were published, the authors were contacted by a couple of other social se


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This is the third installment in Michael Tuffelmire and Nick Manes' Heartside Development series. The first piece focused on the perspective of the homeless in the Heartside neighborhood. The second part looked at the perspective of businesses, from one-person shops to real estate developers like CWD Real Estate. After the first two articles were published, the authors were contacted by a couple of other social service providers in the neighborhood. We wrote this last installment to reflect their views.

Guiding Light Mission, located at 255 S. Division, is predominantly a men's homeless shelter in Heartside. Guiding Light serves two meals a day to anyone in need of a meal with a chapel service preceding each meal, although attendance is not required to receive food. They estimate that they serve about 2,000 meals each week.

The mission has an 8:30 p.m. curfew for those who stay overnight. Patrons have expressed consternation that others in the neighborhood have been denied stay on the grounds of being registered sexual offenders. Guiding Light informed us that they do not do background checks on their patrons. Their goal is to get homeless men out of the cold weather.

Guiding Light has capacity for 68 residents in their permanent bunk beds, as well as space to accomodate overflow on cots in their day room. Each evening, men looking to spend the night line up indoors, strip down, have their belongings locked up and are given a shower and clean medical scrubs to sleep in.

Guiding Light also has a long term substance abuse program for men suffering from drug or alcohol addiction. According to Guiding Light Development Manager Anna Estrada, approximately 21% of homeless people are struggling with addiction. Estrada also says that their rehab program currently has a graduation rate of around 45%. According to the mission's Web site their Spiritual Truth and Recovery Training Program (S.T.A.R.T.) offers “counseling, work therapy, bible study and mentorship.” Estrada also informs us that the men are given work around the mission such as cooking and laundry.

One recent alumnus, Bradley P., graduated and is now serving in the armed service. There is a picture of him on the wall in his uniform. His picture is just one of the many other faces that make up the board of graduates.

In the homeless perspective of our Heartside series, there were concerns about too many social services in Heartside. Estrada responded, saying Guiding Light is working closely with the other providers in the neighborhood to make sure they are not duplicating services. Estrada also took time to address the gentrification issue occurring in the neighborhood, believing that it has not affected Guiding Light much so far.

“This is where the community needs us,” Estrada said, regarding talk that the missions may have to move in light of redevelopment. “We don't want the homeless out of sight, out of mind.”

Stuart Ray is the executive director of Guiding Light Mission. Ray also believes that Guiding Light and other support agencies will have a place in Heartside for quite a long time. “With the presence of Dwelling Place and ICCF, Division will continue to be a mixed neighborhood.”

Ray added, “With Dwelling Place and ICCF locked into 30 year mortgages, I don't see gentrification happening.”

Heartside Ministries, located at 54 S. Division, has been operating since 1983. Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell was one of its earliest staff members. The ministry offers a wide range of programs to its “neighbors,” from needle exchange to an art program.

The needle exchange program, Clean Works, was featured in a Rapidian article earlier this year.

Executive Director Reverend Charlotte Ellison believes the issue of homelessness must be “framed correctly." She cites the state's deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill about 30 years ago as an event that instantly made thousands homeless.

“Some people are not fixable. They need care,” Reverend Ellison said regarding the mentally ill. “The [Heartside] ministry exists for empowerment.”

The Development in Heartside series seems to be contributing to heightened communication in the neighborhood. The authors believe that if the area's diverse population can find a way to communicate about various issues in a more productive manner, Heartside could move forward faster and in a positive direction.

Several different viewpoints of police presence in the neighborhood came up during interviews. The authors attempted to contact the Grand Rapids Police Department for their official statement. Three calls were made to Lieutenant Ralph Mason, in charge of media relations for the Department. He had yet to respond at the time of publication.

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 i just  posted the vid of Nick and Michael discussing this collaboration at the Rapidian's 4th press pit recently. You can see some of the issues they encountered in this process and what they discovered at collaboration. I really admire the work these two have done and look forward to more of their work in the future.