GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — This weather is certainly something for most people to complain about.
But there are those among us for whom this bitter cold is much more than annoying — it can be deadly.
“What would it be like if I had no place to go? What would it be like if I had my child with me with no place to go?” asks Dennis VanKampen, CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries.
Mel Trotter Ministries is one of a handful of institutions where the homeless can find a place to escape the cold that shows no sign of going away anytime soon.
The ministry usually has about 275 people residing there, but will likely see as many as 450 when this kind of cold grips Grand Rapids Heartside neighborhood.
“When we run out of beds and run out of rooms, we put mattresses down on the floor to make sure people have a safe place to come,” VanKampen said. “We see people coming in more of a crisis situation than maybe they do other times of the year and they really are just looking for warmth and a safe place to go and that’s what we’re here for.”
But the shelters need help getting those in need through their doors.
“Thankfully the police department goes out and they do a lot of outreach in weather like this and they help convince people to come in and to get out of that really dangerous cold weather,” VanKampen said. “They do a wonderful job; they are a great partner with us.”
Grand Rapids Police Department Officer Josh Cudney is one of the officers who tries to convince those who might want nothing more than to be left alone to come to a shelter.
“We will proactively go out and look in the areas where we know homeless people will generally stay or sleep or have tents,” Cudney said. “We’re not looking to make arrests we’re looking to provide an outlet, an easy way for a homeless person to get to a shelter for the night.”
It is estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the homeless struggle with mental illness, meaning some just want to be left alone even in the deadly cold.
But Cudney says most of the people he encounters appreciate the ride to a shelter.
“We have really nice homeless people in this area, a lot of them are pretty cheery and they understand that we’re looking out for them,” he said.
Homeless advocates say that we can all help keep the homeless safe by simply calling police of you see a person who looks like they need help dealing with the cold.
Also, Mel Trotter says it is looking for blankets, hand-warmers and camp socks. To learn how to donate items or money, visit the ministry’s website.