GRAND RAPIDS — Tami VandenBerg has decided to step down from the role of executive director at Well House, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit focused on ending homelessness, citing the current strength of the organization.
Over the last five years, the organization has helped 190 people move off the streets into 11 different homes that Well House has acquired around the city, VandenBerg said.
Given those successes, VandenBerg believes that Well House can continue to be successful and sustainable without her at the helm. She plans to step down on April 12.
“When I stepped into this organization and this role, I kind of had some idea of where I wanted to go and where I thought the organization could go,” VandenBerg said. “Pretty recently, we achieved most of those things.”
Specifically, she said she accomplished three major goals during her tenure: keeping the organization from closing, growing Well House to be financially sustainable in the long-term and showing that the Well House model can work to end homelessness.
“In the last six months to a year, myself with tons and tons and tons of help from all kinds of people, we achieved all those things,” she said.
Well House tries to operate on a “housing first” model, which holds that providing housing for homeless people is the most crucial factor in ending homelessness. Then, once those people are in permanent housing, they can begin to address other issues, such as addiction or health issues.
Dr. Sam Tsemberis, a New York City clinical psychologist and the founder of Pathways Housing First, championed the model. MiBiz interviewed Tsemberis in 2016.
For Well House, the nonprofit plans to begin a local and statewide search for a new executive director by the end of the month.
In a statement announcing her plans to resign from the nonprofit, VandenBerg noted that the rising costs of housing continue to create challenges for the organization. Namely, more people become homeless because of those rising costs, and it also makes acquiring homes more difficult for Well House.
“But my faith and confidence in the Well House staff and board convince me that we’ll be in good hands,” she said in a statement.
VandenBerg noted that educating Well House staff, board members and the broader community on the housing first model has been a tiring, but rewarding experience and that’s she’s ready to pursue some new, but undisclosed endeavors.
In addition to her executive director role at Well House, VandenBerg also co-owns two Grand Rapids bars — The Meanwhile and The Pyramid Scheme — with her brother Jeff VandenBerg. The two recently acquired the downtown real estate for The Pyramid Scheme, as MiBiz reported earlier this month.
She also serves on the board of directors for MI Legalize, a group pushing for the ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.
Previously, VandenBerg mounted an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Grand Rapids City Commission, garnering about 33 percent of the vote, according to records. Incumbent Joe Jones went on to win another term.
VandenBerg said she’s not ruling out another run for a commission seat. Public records list the Committee to Elect Tami VandenBerg as being “active.”
“For the first time in like 25 years, I don’t know (what’s next),” VandenBerg said. “I’m not ruling anything out at this point.”