GR’s Well House Working to End Homelessness, One House and Room at a Time
Herman Bonner, who goes by the first name Lee, lives in a neat, tidy room in a modest home on Cass Street in Grand Rapids.
“To be honest, to me it’s just like living in a luxury condo,” the 61-year-old said.
After a year of sleeping at a local shelter, having a quiet, private space to call his own made it seem “like the world was lifted off my shoulders,” he said.
A room at Well House, a Grand Rapids non-profit working to end homelessness, was his salvation. When many other housing options turned him away due to a criminal record that included serving a ten-year prison sentence for assault, Well House was a second chance and a new beginning.
“It’s changed my life,” Bonner said. “I feel more responsible now and I know that I can do the right things that a normal, productive citizen does.”
Connecting people like Bonner with a clean, safe home is the mission of Well House. The organization is in the final push of their 19:1 giving campaign. The fundraising effort highlights the fact that there are 19 available housing units for every homeless person in Kent County. They’re trying to raise $50,000 before the end of the year to get more people off the street and into a home. Funds from the campaign will go toward the restoration of a house on Grand Rapids’ southeast side. You can donate here.
Well House Sustainability Director Danny McGee explains that Well House follows a housing first model when it comes to placing homeless men, women, and families in the organization’s network of eight homes. Unlike other residential programs, Well House provides an immediate home without any pre-requisites, such as requiring treatment or sobriety in the case of a substance abuse issue.“It’s easier to solve a lot of issues if you’re living in a house than if you’re living on the streets,” he said.
Tenants pay $250 per month for a single room, or $350 if two people are sharing a room. Residents share cooking spaces and bathrooms in some cases. Programs such as gardening, group dinners, and health and food education are offered, but are not required.
A housing specialist works with tenants to help overcome their unique challenges. If someone does want to enter substance abuse treatment or needs medical help, Well House staff members work to connect them with the appropriate resources. Transportation, job placement assistance, and other services are also available to residents if they choose to take part.
For Bonner, the freedom offered by living in a Well House home has restored normalcy and dignity to his life, compared to some of the arbitrary restrictions he faced living at the shelter.
“It’s good for my mental health,” he said. “I have more peace of mind.”
He takes pride in where he lives, helping with projects around the various houses that make up the Well House community. He also enjoys a sense of community that was lacking in his life before.
“People at Well House – I consider them my family,” Bonner said.
Find out more about the history of Well House and what the organization is doing for the homeless population in Grand Rapids at their website. If you like their mission, consider donating to their 19:1 campaign before the end of the year.
Photo credit: Julie Bitely