Written by: Jeffrey King and Sam Elliott-Mosley
Housing First Works in Grand Rapids’ City Center
Have you noticed something different about Monroe Center? In November and December of 2020, outreach teams led by Community Rebuilders, deployed to the Monroe Center and Rosa Parks Geographically Targeted Housing Outreach (GTHO) region to identify, assess, prioritize, and re-house persons who were regularly using the area as their primary sleeping location. A collaborative and multi-disciplinary outreach team deployed a housing first, strengths-based approach to addressing the immediate health and safety needs as well as long-term housing goals of individuals identified.
GTHO uses active, consistent outreach and individualized, real housing plans to build stronger relationships with the people residing in the targeted area.
Phase one of this program initially identified and assessed 52 individuals in the GTHO area. Further assessment identified that of these 52 individuals, 39 were persons identified as regularly residing in the GTHO area, with 10 of the 39 being identified as youth (18 – 24 years of age) experiencing homelessness.
95% of individuals were successfully relocated from the Monroe Center/Rosa Parks GTHO region to stable housing of their choosing.
Everyone gets a housing plan
Individualized housing plans were developed for each of the 39 persons identified. All 39 were offered and accepted an emergency housing resource. Emergency housing was provided in community-based, non-congregate private rental homes. This service assisted the project in meeting the immediate goals of:
- Restoring the Monroe Center/Rosa Parks area for its intended purpose and use
- Preparing for, preventing, and responding to COVID-19
- Addressing the immediate health and safety needs of persons residing in places not meant for human habitation
Once in permanent housing, households were connected to a Housing Resource Specialist to develop a permanent housing plan. These plans were individualized and based on the consumer’s wants, needs, strengths, and resources.
Housing First practices help rebuild trust in the system and within the community
A tent can be home for some and the loss of it can be painful despite how bad the living conditions may be. When offered access to safe, decent, affordable housing and the supports needed to maintain it people consistently choose housing – but it can be hard to earn enough trust to begin the conversation. Housing First focuses on housing without prerequisites because we know when basic needs are met, people can begin to thrive in a community.
“It has given me so much hope that people believe in me and believe I could be a different person – someone who isn’t on the streets and has a better life.”
Kendra was living in a tent and was identified by the GTHO team last year. “We felt like it wasn’t going to happen, but then you found us,” Kendra said remembering the day she moved from the streets. Kendra moved into temporary housing initially, and now is living in her own apartment. She is able to focus on her future plans with work and a home she can call her own. “I don’t struggle like I used to, I don’t just get by like I used to, I don’t have to worry about walking forever and a day to get to a shower, or sleeping in the freezing cold at night – I don’t panic like I used to.” Now Kendra gets excited thinking about her future – she’s making plans to work on a fixer-upper forever home with her father and is spending time with her son. “I’m getting the respect back from my family – my son looks at me in a totally different way.”
*Names and images have been changed/removed to maintain confidentiality
Reaching the most vulnerable and at-risk persons in our city
GTHO is a bold, empathetic, and community-driven approach to ending homelessness. It requires the collaboration and dedication of many community organizations to effectively improve the housing situation for community members in the targeted area. These organizations have come together to make it happen:
- Arbor Circle
- City of Grand Rapids Homeless Outreach Team (HOT)
- City of Grand Rapids Community Development Department
- Community Rebuilders
- Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc.
- Mel Trotter Ministries
- Pine Rest – Street Reach
- The Salvation Army – Housing Assessment Program