Thanks to a three-year, $475,000 grant approved by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation last week, local nonprofit Well House will purchase three more houses to add to its nine existing homes, all dedicated to providing access to affordable housing, healthy food, employment opportunities and community engagement.
Well House purchases vacant, boarded up homes from the Kent County Land Bank Authority and brings them up to code to create shared, low-cost, permanent housing solutions for people who have been living on the streets or in shelters.
Tami VandenBerg, executive director of Well House, says two of the new homes will be allocated for families at risk of immediate separation.
"Families that are homeless will often be separated into different shelters or between family members, or children are placed in foster care," she says. "Our goal is to keep families together."
The remaining house will be the first from Well House allocated specifically for homeless youth, the two major at-risk groups being those aging out of foster care and LGBT youth.
"What a lot of youth has done before is just find someone who would take them in, and unfortunately, those aren't always the healthiest situations," VandenBerg says. "I'm hopeful that this will help avoid some situations where they might not be safe."
With five existing plots for food-growing in downtown Grand Rapids, a portion of the grant will also go to expanding the Well House Urban Farm and creating new employment opportunities for tenants working on the farm and helping with the rehabilitation of new housing.
VandenBerg says Well House's "housing first" model is an evidence-based approach to solving homelessness, championing the idea that a homeless individual or household's first and primary need is stable housing.
Since VandenBerg became executive director of Well House in January 2013, 68 people have been moved out of homelessness and into permanent housing. Eighty-eight percent of those individuals have remained at Well House or located other housing of their choice.
At $275 per month for a single room, Well House has a waiting list of anywhere between 40-45 applicants and has received more than 320 applications in the past two years alone.
"I think the biggest change I've seen in the last 10 or 20 years is that we're talking about it a lot right now," VandenBerg says. "Back in the day, when I started out, we really just weren't talking about it much. It was certainly an issue, but we just sent everybody to the bridge and if they were full everyone was just out of luck. The really good news is that this issue is on the radar."
For more information, visit www.wellhousegr.org.
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Well House