Visualising change: A photo essay on Dégagé Ministries' groundbreaking Complex Care Housing program

On a cold winter morning on Jan. 11, area caregivers, politicians, and media gathered within the Heartside neighborhood for a ribbon-cutting ceremony introducing Dégagé Ministries' new Complex Care Housing program at 129 Jefferson Ave. 

This innovative program located on the site of the former Hope Lodge facility, which includes a stunning array of wrap-around services built within, aims to address chronic homelessness among women and is believed to be the first of its kind in Michigan to serve people with complex needs who struggle to maintain permanent housing.

Dégagé Ministries acquired a lease for the former American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge from its current facility owner, Trinity Health Grand Rapids.

A few days after the ceremony, Dégagé Ministries began the process of moving in its first round of tenants, with the goal of empowering them over time toward eventual integration into permanent housing solutions. 

Publisher and photographer Tommy Allen visited one of their newest tenants, Bri, a few weeks later and toured the innovative project. Rapid Growth has agreed not to use Bri's last name to protect her identity.
Bri reminded me during our time together that a smile on your face indicates the warmth in your heart.

Bri loves knowing that Dégagé Ministries' Complex Care Housing facility has a door person to ensure her and others safety.
Dégagé Ministries decorated each door so that when the women moved in, they would feel welcome ...and at home.

Story is the on-site therapy dog that freely wanders the hallways and elevators of the Jefferson Avenue complex.
“We know this program only touches a small population of those currently identified as being unhoused in greater Grand Rapids, but we hope to demonstrate a solid ROI (return on investment) for funders and realize success in providing innovative, targeted programming that meets people where they are and empowers them to make confident, successful steps into permanent housing,” says Thelma Ensink, executive director of Dégagé Ministries.

Through the Complex Care Housing program, Dégagé Ministries is offering hope and stability to marginalized women while catalyzing systemic change toward a more compassionate and efficient response to homelessness. 

Bri and her friend Sylvia enjoy shopping at Thrift on Div, located on the ground floor of the Complex Care Housing building.

One of the many social-building spaces is the library, where gaming and reading and socialization opportunities await residents.

Dégagé Ministries' Complex Care Housing facility offers plenty of spaces over four floors for residents to mingle and meet.
The former tenant left a piano behind for the residents who, like Bri, enjoy this opportunity to brush up on or learn a new skill.

After spending two hours with Bri, I couldn’t help feeling that this is just the kind of collaborative project other communities could aspire to copy or adapt in their own ways as others struggle to meet the needs of unhoused populations.

The Complex Care Housing facility offers many age-friendly amenities like same-floor access to laundry machines.

Bri smiles now, knowing that she no longer has to wait in line behind up to 20 other women to get a shower each morning

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