Nonprofits and Real Estate

Guiding Light Mission opens new housing in Kentwood

July 26, 2013
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Guiding Light Mission Opens new housing in Kentwood
Celebrating the Iron House opening are, from left, Bradford Mathis, Kevin Bouwens, Nancy Claus, Clifford Washington and Stuart Ray. Mathis, Claus and Washington all are Guiding Light board members. Photo by Mike Nichols

Tuesday morning was an emotional one for Kevin Bouwens.

Bouwens, who has been living as a guest in Guiding Light Mission, a downtown Grand Rapids gospel rescue shelter that helps rehabilitate and employ troubled men, fought to hold back tears as he stood in front of a new Guiding Light transitional housing facility.

Once homeless, Bouwens developed the facility that he and other men like himself now will call home.

“To Kevin’s credit, he organized a group of advisers that went out … and put a matrix together of safe living opportunities for the men,” said Stuart Ray, Guiding Light executive director.

“Kevin successfully raised money for this endeavor. … He’s done a lot of work. He’s really the visionary.”

The new transitional house, a 3,600-square-foot, four-unit building at 540 Andover St. SE in Kentwood, was filled with community members and visitors last Tuesday morning, as Guiding Light officials and board members introduced the new facility to the neighborhood with a blessing ceremony.

The facility will be called the Iron House of Sober Living, a reference to the biblical proverb, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17). The Iron House will accommodate eight men, two per unit, who have proven their trustworthiness by graduating from Guiding Light’s New Life in Christ recovery program. Each man must have a job, a sponsor and be responsible for the utility bills and upkeep of the property, including paying $90 per week in rent.

Guiding Light will continue to provide counselors and support, but the idea is to get the men into their own place where they can begin to experience the real world, Ray said. One of the men will be the house manager and will help run the facility, he said, allowing the men the opportunity to begin self management of their environment.

“This is iron sharpening iron. We all know whenever you attempt to socialize eight individuals under a facility, there are going to be issues,” Ray said. “We are expecting the men to resolve those issues themselves. That’s life — that’s the way it is out there — so that’s how it’s going to be here.”

Ray said anyone who is serious about dealing with homelessness in Grand Rapids should take a look at the cost of living in West Michigan. He hopes the renovations on the facility, some of which were done by the men themselves, will help improve the value of the neighborhood.

“Guiding Light has made a commitment that we’re really about engaging men back into society and making them active participants in their communities,” Ray said. “We can’t control wages; we can control housing and rent.”

Bouwens echoed that sentiment, adding that transitional housing is especially important for men and women in recovery. The first four to five months out of rehab are when many individuals relapse, he said, admitting he knew this from personal experience. Guiding Light men can stay at the Iron House for six months, he said, allowing them a healthy amount of time to adjust to the reality of the world outside the recovery program.

It’s hard for recovering men to suddenly jump from the safe environment of their recovery program — where they are fed, clothed, sheltered and mentored for six months — back into their old lives, with waiting bills and overwhelming pressure, he said.

“I wasn’t going to leave Guiding Light until I found good transitional housing. Well, at that time, I didn’t realize I was the one who was going to find good transitional housing,” Bouwens said.

“It just seems that, even across the nation and in West Michigan, (homeless programs) concentrate on the program itself, which is about 90 percent, and then only 10 percent on housing, employment, things like that. We want to change that around to make it more 60 percent on the program, 40 percent on housing and stabilization.”

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