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Wednesday, 22 May 2013 13:14

Well House secures Kellogg Foundation grant to expand homelessness outreach

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Tami VandenBerg, director of Well House Tami VandenBerg, director of Well House PHOTO: Elijah Brumback

GRAND RAPIDS — The nonprofit Well House is set to expand its offerings for those in need of a place to stay.

That expansion is possible thanks to a two-year grant for $257,000 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek. 

A nonprofit organization trying to curb homelessness in the Grand Rapids, Well House expects to purchase three additional homes just south of Grand Rapids’ Heartside District near its existing three properties on Cass Avenue SE. 

The additional facilities would make way for affordable homes for an additional 25 to 35 people that are currently homeless, said Tami VandenBerg, director of Well House. 

“We are going to get people out of the shelter and off the street until there is no one else who needs it,” VandenBerg said. “We have people lined up to get in, and we have to turn people away every day.”

Before VandenBerg joined the organization on Jan. 1, Well House was close to shutting its doors. Instead of starting a new project, Vandenberg took over and quickly established a new board and assembled a staff. Then came the search for new revenue. While the tenants provide some support through reduced rents, the costs to operate Well House can’t get by on tenant support alone. 

Well House’s efforts come at a time when the nearby neighborhood is facing a serious foreclosure problem. One in three homes in the neighborhood is in mortgage foreclosure or tax foreclosure, said David Allen, executive director of the Kent County Land Bank Authority.

“Our job in every neighborhood we’re in is to come up with creative ways to raise property values,” Allen said. “In this particular neighborhood, foreclosure is at a crisis level.” 

Using cross-collateralization from the sales and revenue of properties sold in better performing neighborhoods, Allen said the Land Bank was able to buy and hold the properties Well House wanted until the organization found funding.

To meet the needs of the organization, VandenBerg gained the support of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, The Dyer Ives Foundation and the Sebastian Foundation to start a greenhouse and community garden. The recent grant also allows Well House to expand its urban farm operation that employs 10 to 20 tenants each year. 

With the support of the Kent County Land Bank Authority, Well House is using part of the grant to purchase a plot of property to expand the urban farm, which will focus on growing mushrooms to fill an unmet local need and to grow employment opportunities for Well House tenants, VandenBerg said.

“The program is all about people helping people to help themselves,” said Larry Barnes, a tenant at Well House since Jan. 30. “They took me in and practically saved my life. It’s a great thing and I would like to see more of it.”

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