The West Michigan Hardly Homeless Panhandlers

WZZM recently shared an article concerning a newly-formed group in the Grand Rapids area: the West Michigan Hardly Homeless Panhandlers. The article opens with a brief introduction and this quote:

I don’t want my kids walking down the street with them on the corners. I don’t want people giving their money to panhandlers so they can buy drugs and alcohol.”

You can read the full article here.

How should we react to this news? To this group? As a homeless shelter? As Christians? As men and women seeking to offer food and shelter without exception to the worthy and the unworthy?

Here are a few thoughts from our CEO and Executive Director, Dennis Van Kampen:

First, I am not endorsing panhandling.

See this post

But I am still bothered by the sentiment of this group.

I recently spoke to a church group with nearly 200 members. I asked – by a show of hands – how many of them had ever served a homeless person in a food line? Or had brought a homeless person a cup of coffee? Or a sandwich? Almost every hand went up. Then I asked – by a show of hands – how many had ever engaged a homeless person in conversation? Beyond a simple greeting? Only five hands went up.

It’s very easy for us to describe homeless men and women as “the other” or “the outsider.” 

But here’s what I’ve learned in my 4+ years serving the homeless in greater Grand Rapids: the homeless are not much different than you and me.

We are all dependent on the mercy of God and the kindness of one another

What happens when we see everyone – including the homeless – in that light?             

I was told – growing up – that everyone could and should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But what if you don’t have boots? Or your bootstraps are broken?

Most homeless families in Grand Rapids had nice homes and good jobs five or so years ago. But then the economy tanked. Or they lost their job. Their spouse was diagnosed with a significant illness. Medical bills piled up. Bankruptcy. Foreclosure. Death. Mental illness. Divorce. 

The factors are endless. 

But we cannot sweep these issues – and these people – away by saying, “We don’t want them here.” 

There are a handful of great organizations working to end homelessness in Grand Rapids. Mel Trotter Ministries is one of them. These organizations exist to serve a vulnerable population and to walk beside them as their lives are made new in Jesus Christ. 

God’s heart for the poor is clear. 

The question then is this: does our heart match His? 

I’ll take care of you anyway.

A nurse in our Shelter for Public Inebriates, shared the below concerning her work to care for an often unloved population within our community: public inebriates. It is a testimony of grace and goodness and compassion demonstrated. Thank you to this particular nurse – and to all of our nurses – for her selfless love.

Imagine waking in a ditch with no recollection of how you got there. Imagine being an ex-convict or having HIV. Imagine being lost, alone, and rejected. Now imagine walking into a homeless shelter, still reeling from the alcohol you chose to deaden the pain.homeless shelter

Can you picture yourself still wet from the dew? Head pounding? Your body odor wafting through the tears in your clothing? What will people think of you? What will people say?

At Mel Trotter Ministries, we say, “I’ll take care of you anyway.

My calling is to provide compassionate nursing care to the homeless population in Heartside. My job is at Mel Trotter Ministries, in their Shelter for Public Inebriates. The Shelter for Public Inebriates is a safe place for individuals to recover from alcohol and/or substance abuse intoxication. Our team provides medical assessment and care, triaging anything from heart attack to blistering sunburn.

What else do we do? 

We hold garbage cans when stomachs refuse the nourishing food we provide. We carry limp, tired, and worn out bodies to and from bed. We keep guests accountable for their recovery and provide guidance and support. We perform CPR and save lives. But we also lose lives – to the community, to ignorance, and to demons that are too strong for our guests to overcome.

But we always come back and do it all over again.


I chose to apply and develop my nursing skills at a non-profit homeless shelter because I know so many of us are one bad circumstance – or series of circumstances – away from homelessness. Life can change in an instant. It could be me or my neighbor searching
desperately for someone to say, “I’ll take care of you anyway.” 

This job has its challenges. I’ve seen and experienced unimaginable things. But I am honored and blessed to be a nurse here, to be a part of this community. Why? Because I get to be a part of giving others God with just a few simple words: I’ll take care of you anyway

Mel Trotter in the Summertime

The challenges homeless individuals and families face during the winter months are obvious:

  • Lack of proper clothing to protect from the elements
  • Prolonged exposure to the elements resulting in frostbit, hypothermia, etc.
  • Minimal access to a balanced, nutritious food

The challenges homeless individuals and families face during the summer months may be a little less obvious.

But homelessness doesn’t take a summer break.

Homeless individuals and families in the Grand Rapids community experience an increased risk of heat stroke, dehydration, heat cramps, and other health problems due to exposure to our hot, Michigan sun.

How does Mel Trotter help combat the summer heat? Especially for the little ones who stay at our shelter?

One way is through partnerships with area churches and organizations. These partnerships allow the 50+ kids that stay at our shelter to attend VBS (Vacation Bible School) programs, sports camps, overnight camps, and more.

Our team snapped a few photos recently of some of our kids heading to Thornapple Covenant Church in Ada, Michigan. Their excitement was tangible and is evident in the photos below:

MTM_VBS_August2015_7_edit MTM_VBS_August2015_1_edit MTM_VBS_August2015_4_edit MTM_VBS_August2015_unedited_10

Why We Love Mel Trotter Ministries

Many members of our staff were recently asked what they love most about Mel Trotter Ministries. There were a variety of responses – all fantastic – that show their passion and dedication to serving the homeless, hungry, and hurting within West Michigan.

A few favorite quotes:

I love working here because, honestly, where else can we have the opportunity every day to change the world one life at a time and to provide the hope of Christ and the love of Christ to some of the most amazing children of God.” – Dennis, CEO / Executive Director

I love working here at Mel Trotter because I’ve been through this. I’ve been through the doors over there, all the way through it, through the programs, and worked my way up, and now I’ve been working here ever since.” – James, Executive Chef

Want to hear more?

Here are the remainder of the beautiful responses from our staff:

From Homeless to Harvard

Mel Trotter Ministries will host its first annual Season of Hope event this fall on Monday, September 28, at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. This unique and inspiring dinner event will allow Mel Trotter supporters and friends to enjoy community and connectedness, while listening to Liz Murray, an inspirational speaker.

lizmurrayLiz Murray is the subject of the Lifetime movie, Homeless to Harvard, and the New York Times best-selling author of Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard. She was born in the Bronx in the early 1980s to drug-addicted parents and became homeless at 15, when her mother died of AIDS and her father moved to a homeless shelter.

Liz is not unlike many of the men, women, and 50+ children who stay at Mel Trotter Ministries. Their eyes are filled with hope. They long for a better life. Will someone, somewhere see them not for who they are, but for who they could be? With a mentor, determination, and a dream, Liz persevered. She fought. She went from “homeless to Harvard.” Her story is moving, empowering, and provides us with a fresh perspective on both hardship and possibility.

How do we create possibility for others? Particularly for our homeless brothers and sisters? How do we see them not for who they are, but for who they could be? How do we turn a dream into reality?

One way is through your attendance and sponsorship of our Season of Hope event. All monies collected through this gathering will be used to support the work we do to end homelessness in the Greater Grand Rapids area, one person at a time. More specifically, the money raised will help us empower families to build a better future by maintaining a space that is both safe and welcoming for those who call our shelter home.

You can learn more about the event here.

Consider joining us. Tickets go on sale August 24. Sponsorships are also available.

Homeless Count Hits 7-Year High in Kent County

Mlive recently published an article with this title: Homeless Count Hits 7-Year High in Kent County.

You can read the article here.

Dennis VanKampen, our CEO and Executive Director, responded to this article with the below comments. It’s worth a read.

From Dennis:

It is important to remember that the Point in Time Count (PIT) only captures the homeless staying in shelters and homeless that can be located on one given night, and one night only. Exceptions to this one-night survey may be individuals and families that may be sleeping on someone’s couch for a night, people that paid for a cheap motel for one night (but lack stable income and housing) or those that may have been unable to take the survey that night for some other reason. So while the PIT Count brings awareness to the rise in homelessness the annual numbers are even more concerning. In 2014 alone, MTM serviced 7,258 unique individuals that were homeless, this number includes men, single women, but also many children and families.

Homelessness is a community problem. Because it is a community issue, it will take everyone in that community to end this chronic problem. It is not the fault or the solution of one agency. Ending homelessness in Grand Rapids will truly take the entire community- that includes non-profits, businesses, residents, and visitors. Why does everyone need to be involved in this solution? Because it’s a complex issue. Just like there was not one cause or solution to homelessness, there is not one reason an individual finds themselves homeless. The lack of affordable housing, stable long-term employment and accessible transportation are all large hurdles to jump in order to transition an individual out of homelessness. 

Another large issue to be addressed: finding ways to help and transition the mentally ill out of homelessness. This is an entire population that needs our attention.

Here’s where I think we have to remind ourselves that although homelessness is a large issue, the possibilities of a solution are greater. With the collaborations of non-profits, businesses, churches, residents and the entire city, it’s impossible to think that this is an issue greater than our hope and desire for change. 

At Mel Trotter, we see hope! In 2014 alone, we helped 171 individuals find permanent housing and 112 find full time permanent employment. Many reunited with families, found support groups through churches and AA, etc. and for those who were searching for a relationship with God, many took steps in their faith journey to follow Christ, connect with a church and enter discipleship programs. Our mission is to demonstrate the compassion of Christ to the hungry, hurting and homeless and as this report shows there are many more of them, especially families and teenagers since the recession of 2008. 

My hope is that the PIT Count would ignite a serious conversation as a community that includes business leaders, faith leaders, community and government leaders, mental health and addiction experts and leaders from organizations that serve the homeless community, where we seek to collaborate for the good of each homeless individual and family so we can truly end homelessness one life at a time. No one should live under a bridge, in a car, on someone’s couch or in their shed, and no one should have to stay in a shelter, hotel or church basement one day longer than necessary to help them move into a future filled with hope, restoration, and dignity.

PGA Professionals Look to Break World Record on behalf of Mel Trotter

The world is full of some pretty impressive people who have done some pretty impressive things. Some of those things have become world records. Examples below:

  • The largest commercially available hamburger (164.8 pounds!).
  • The heaviest vehicle pulled over 100 feet (126,200 pounds – a FIRE TRUCK!).
  • The youngest person to climb Mount Everest (13 year old Jordan Romero).
  • The tallest man (Sultan Kosen at 8’1″).

Of course there’s a few more bizarre, quirky world records too:

  • The most people head-banging simultaneously (320 students in Australia).
  • The most people eating breakfast in bed (388 in East Shanghai, China).
  • The largest rice mosaic (17,827 square feet in Seoul, Korea).
  • The largest gathering of people dressed as penguins (373 in London).
  • The fastest 100 meter run on all fours (15.86 seconds in Tokyo).

This weekend, three Grand Rapids-based PGA Professionals will attempt a world record too, on behalf of Mel Trotter Ministries. Jim Bultema, Matt Koets, and Sam Stover, with Railside Golf Club, Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 1.42.38 PMwill seek to break the record for most holes of continuous play in the 24-hour period leading up to our annual Golf Marathon of Hope.

Our team thinks these guys are pretty impressive too.

Not because of their endurance.
Not because of their golf prowess.
Not because of their general disinterest in SLEEP (something we quite enjoy).

Our team is impressed because these three folks are choosing to use their gifts and talents (while foregoing general comfort) to raise awareness and money for Mel Trotter Ministries’ women and children’s programs.

Want to support them in this endeavor?

You can pledge your support HERE.