Finding Local Help for the Homeless

By Patricia Riley


People live paycheck to paycheck these days. It is safe to say that some individuals are one paycheck away from being homeless. This is sad, but true and can be backed by homeless-neighbor-300x199national statistics.


The Los Angeles Times reveals in a Dec 11, 2013 article that homelessness and hunger are climbing in U.S. cities according to the latest U.S. Conference of Mayors survey of 25 large and midsized metro areas. The article stated that according to U.S. Census figures, “last year’s national poverty rate of 15% is still near the Great Depression’s high of 15.1 percent.”


The 25 cities surveyed for the Annual Hunger & Homelessness report of the U.S. Conference of Mayors revealed a 3% increase in overall homelessness, and half of those cities expected the number of homeless families to increase this year. Cities that participated in the survey stretched across the country, including such Midwestern cities as Chicago, Cleveland, Louisville, Philadelphia, St. Paul, and Nashville.



In the greater Grand Rapids area, several ministries are dedicated to addressing the issues of the homeless. Besides being homeless, issues include hunger, child care, personal hygiene, short-term housing, and employment programs to name a few. Among the many ministries in our community that are helping to fight homelessness, this article will highlight two: South End Community Outreach Ministries and Guiding Light Mission. Although these ministries offer different types of programs, each one has dynamically empowered the community with their outstanding service.


Started in 1971, the ministry began when four Methodist churches gathered together to address the needs of the community. Once affiliated with the Methodist Church, SECOM is now a non-profit organization serving many Grand Rapidians, according to Katherine Brower, executive director of SECOM.


”The number of people we serve has increased tremendously over the past years,” Brower says. Today the ministry serves a little over 10,000 people. Brower relies on past and present reports of South End Community Outreach Ministries(SECOM) as a means of determining the services they now offer the community.


Stefanie Hosford, development director of SECOM believes that downtown Grand Rapids has a higher homeless population. “A lot of SECOM clients are people struggling to make ends meet. They struggle to pay rent or purchase food,” she says.


South End offers such services as:


• Food Distribution on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m. They are closed on Thursday.


• Infant and Child Pantry open the first and third Monday each month from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.


• Free Pre-school Childcare


• Health Program


• Pride for Parents Program where clients can earn $75 in credit for Christmas gifts by volunteering 10 hours per child.


South End Ministry is open for donations whether it’s food, money, household goods or clothing. By making a donation, anyone can play a part in helping the homeless and hungry in their area. SECOM is located at 1545 Buchanan Ave, SW, Grand Rapids, MI. Contact number is (616) 452-7684. Office hours are from 8:30 to 4:30 p.m.


Closer to the heart of downtown is Guiding Light Mission on South Division. The organization was started in 1929 by John Vande Water, a man who had compassion for the hungry in the community. Originally it was called West Fulton Mission that assisted people in urgent need of food. Years later, the mission extended services to help treat people with drug and alcohol addiction. That led to offering transitional housing and a substance recovery program called The New Life in Christ. Today the mission is more determined than ever to be that guiding light to the homeless in the area.


“We believe that God gave everyone talents,” says Stuart Ray, the mission’s executive director for the last five years. “We want people to use those gifts. The people housed here must be alcohol and drug free. In the last two years, we have put over 310 men back to work. We hold people accountable for what they say they are going to do. Here at Guiding Light, you must work and save your money.”


Ray explains that the mission manages two transitional houses and does not use money from HUD. It is a faith-based 501C organization that is privately funded. The staff consists of two care managers who create action plans, licensed counselors, social workers, mentors, fund development specialists, a pastor and many volunteers. The ministry is opsoupen 24/7 and works with males over the age of 18.


“Men come in all day long. We serve three meals a day, hold chapel every night and Bible study every afternoon. We also provide training for GED completion,” Ray says.


Keeping the hungry fed is the responsibility of Food Service Manager Josh VanOveren. “We work with other agencies to get food out into the community. We have a special relationship with Gordon Food Service, our largest donor, and Feeding America of West Michigan. We also receive individual donations,” Van Overin explains. Between July of 2012 and June of 2013, 46,850 free meals were served.


Other mission accomplishments for that year included providing 312 chapel services, 600 Bible Study classes, 18 thousand overnight stays, and 1300 small group and individual counseling sessions. The New Live for Christ program served 51 individuals who benefited from the rigorous drug and alcohol rehab and workforce readiness programs. Guiding Light also helped 78% of the men in rescue to obtain full-time jobs, establish savings accounts and move into independent housing.


To support and further these accomplishments, monetary and clothing donations are welcomed between the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. To Guiding Light Mission, SEMCO and other organizations helping the homeless and hungry in our community, our gratitude  is with you.