Street Talk: The home team

Sunny disposition

February 22, 2019
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A group of local nonprofits and businesses has teamed up to help families in the community who are experiencing homelessness.

In December, the Business Journal reported funds for emergency shelters for Kent County’s homeless were drying up. At the time, Holland Home’s Fulton Manor, 1450 E. Fulton St., was pressed into service. Holland Home had closed the former assisted living center and planned to sell the building.

As of Feb. 4, however, it reopened as the Fulton Manor Emergency Family Shelter and is expected to shelter more than 400 families with children this year.

The process for families needing emergency shelter will remain the same. Families will be referred to the shelter through United Way’s 2-1-1 and Salvation Army Housing Assessment Program. In addition to a place to sleep, the shelter will provide food, clothing, diapers and support services to help families transition to housing. The emergency site is not intended as a permanent solution to family homelessness. Rather, it is a one-year, stopgap measure to address a growing crisis in family homelessness in Kent County. As the cost of living continues to rise in West Michigan, more and more families are unable to afford housing or face lapses in housing.

As of now, more than 100 families are on a waiting list for emergency shelter and more than 70 percent of them are employed and have income but cannot afford the cost of living locally.

According to a United Way ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report, 38 percent of Kent County residents struggle to afford basic needs.

The Fulton Manor project is a collaboration between Holland Home, Family Promise of Grand Rapids, Kids’ Food Basket and United Way. Holland Home is providing the facility, facility staff and some hot meals; Family Promise is providing the shelter, basic needs and re-housing services; Kids’ Food Basket is supplying a portion of the family meals; and Heart of West Michigan United Way is offering funding, volunteer coordination and connections with local businesses. United Way also acts as the fiduciary. Other participants are Dégagé Ministries, Inner City Christian Federation, Mel Trotter Ministries, the Salvation Army and the Coalition to End Homelessness, along with many private foundations and other funders.

“We know who these hard-working families are,” said Michelle Van Dyke, president and CEO of Heart of West Michigan United Way. “These are our ALICE families who are working and doing everything right but simply can’t make ends meet. Given our mission and passion for this community, we wanted to be part of this solution.”

The Fulton Manor property has been provided to the project partners on a one-year lease by Holland Home.

“When we learned about the number of homeless families in our community, we knew our Fulton Manor space could be the solution,” said Mina Breuker, president and CEO of Holland Home. “There were over 70 families with young children who needed a place to sleep, and our building was going to be vacant. It seemed like a win-win.”

Helping young children is especially appealing to some of the partners.

“Sixty-five percent of individuals who are sheltered at Fulton Manor are children, and we believe a strong West Michigan depends on strong kids and families,” said Afton DeVos, chief operating officer at Kids’ Food Basket. “This partnership is a tremendous opportunity to provide the most basic necessities for any family — food and shelter — further extending our mission of nourishing children to thrive.”

The far-ranging partnership is necessary because the needs are so great.

“No one agency can solve the complex issue of family homelessness. That’s why this short-term solution is working. Many different entities are coming together to help children and families,” said Cheryl Schuch, executive director at Family Promise.

“In addition to this emergency shelter, there is a large-scale community conversation with KConnect taking place to ensure our community has a plan going forward,” Schuch said.

Hello?

The Kent County Health Department (KCHD) is warning people about a new Medicare telephone scam.

Medicare recipients have reportedly received calls appearing to originate from the KCHD’s main number (616-632-7100). The callers fraudulently identify themselves as Medicare representatives offering a free knee or back brace.

The caller then asks the person to share some personal information, such as a Social Security number, to “confirm” his or her identity.

“We do not call residents and ask for Social Security numbers or any other sensitive personal or financial information,” KCHD Director Adam London said. “It is disheartening these scammers are using the KCHD’s phone number and impersonating Medicare representatives to target older residents.”

He said KCHD has notified proper authorities and has posted a warning about the scam on its website. Additionally, all KCHD staff members have been notified about the situation and have been given instructions on how to respond to callers.

Power of three

A Michigan utility is adding a new plant to its solar portfolio.

Consumers Energy plans to develop its third solar power plant in Cadillac. The prospective plant will sit on the Mitchell-Bentley property, a vacant, 5-acre site on Wright Street west of downtown.

“Consumers Energy is taking a stand for our planet with our Clean Energy Plan that includes over 40 percent of our energy coming from renewable sources,” said Brian Rich, Consumers Energy’s senior vice president for customer experience. “We are excited to pursue a project that should be good for a community we serve and Michigan’s clean energy future.”

The Cadillac City Council recently approved an agreement to allow Consumers Energy to place solar panels on the property. The company now seeks approval from the Michigan Public Service Commission.

“This is a wonderful example of a collaboration between the public and private sectors, all for the good of our community,” said Marcus Peccia, Cadillac city manager. “We have an opportunity to clean up a blighted brownfield site, and residents will be able to connect to a renewable energy source right here in our backyard.”

The solar power plant would generate half a megawatt of electricity, enough to power as many as 100 homes at a time, and could be operating before the summer of 2020.

Consumers Energy currently operates two solar projects in Michigan, at Grand Valley State University and Western Michigan University. Together, those two locations generate enough power to serve over 800 homes at a time, according to the utility.

The Cadillac location would join the two sites in the company’s Solar Gardens community solar program. Customers who enroll in Solar Gardens pay as little as $10 a month to support solar projects and receive bill credits based on electricity generated.

The Business Journal reported Consumers Energy announced its Clean Energy Plan last year, which focuses on developing new sources of renewable energy in Michigan. The energy provider plans to stop using coal to generate electricity and reduce its carbon emissions by 90 percent.

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