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Mel Trotter Ministries Partners with Nonprofits to Coordinate Holistic Care to the Homeless

Trotter1Mel Trotter Ministries executive director/CEO Dennis VanKampen reads a copy of the Bible believed to have been owned by Melvin Ernest Trotter.Dennis VanKampen recently was appointed executive director and CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries (MTM), a multifaceted outreach to the homeless based in the Heartside district of Grand Rapids. It’s not a job he initially sought. He is grateful the Lord saw otherwise.

As a result, VanKampen’s perspective has since changed since he landed the top job at the nonprofit founded by redeemed alcoholic Melvin Ernest Trotter 115 years ago when it was known as the City Rescue Mission. Also changed is how it will help the homeless and mentally and physically ill find Christ’s hope and healing.

“There was an undeniable nudging from God to apply for the job,” VanKampen said. “I tried to ignore it. I put my name before the board of directors. I’m humble to have this role.”

Although MTM’s presence in Grand Rapids is well established, its board of directors and staff decided not to allow status quo to reign, VanKampen said.

Asking questions

About three years ago the local nonprofit started to ask some probing questions back when VanKampen was still vice president of programs.

Trotter 2Dennis VanKampen sits in one of 22 family apartments at MTM.That internal query included: What is MTM called to do and what does it do well?

They determined MTM does a credible job providing spiritual care to the homeless, hungry, alcoholics and working poor. Its downtown Grand Rapids location at 225 Commerce Ave. SW provides childcare so single parents can go on job interviews or go to work. It provides clothing, computer-based learning and work training and has a men’s chapel. Its clinics provide legal, dental, vision, chiropractic services, shelter to men, women and children, public inebriated services and a pantry for the working poor.

It also has four “thrift stores” (Grand Rapids, Sparta, Belding and Jenison) and an auto dealership adjacent to its Grand Rapids store. In 2014, it provided services to 7,250 people and 270 meals daily in its cafeteria.

Not the whole answer

Trotter3Mel Trotter’s computer lab makes it possible for people to look online for housing, apply for employment and earn their GED.Another question has led MTM to where it is today: Should it partner with other urban ministries and healthcare organizations and through that collaboration, do an even better job of taking care of the person’s spiritual, physical and material needs? It was an affirmative answer.

“We know we’re not the whole answer,” VanKampen said. “Homeless people have different barriers and challenges. Historically, we were an island. We decided to collaborate with other organizations because we trust God to bless it.”

Those partnerships include:

• A pilot program between Family Promise of Grand Rapids (FPGR) and Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF). The three ministries will provide 32 rooms of temporary shelter for homeless families who were hit hard by the Great Recession or for any other reason they are homeless. A FPGR staff member will be onsite to provide care management. ICCF, in turn, will educate people on how to budget their money and understand the ins and outs of purchasing a home.

“We’ve been able to get first-time homeless families into a shelter and then into their own permanent housing in 40 to 50 days,” VanKampen said. “This partnership enables us to keep up with a growing number of families so they don’t end up in a car, hotel or in a dangerous place.”

MTM formed a committee with representatives from Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Hospital, Metro Health Hospital and Spectrum Health, which continues to explore is a recuperation center is needed for homeless people after they are discharged from a hospital. “They all believe it is needed,” VanKampen said. “It is not set in stone. A four-bed pilot program is planned to gauge the real need and build the case if necessary for a future larger recuperation center.”

• Provide smaller temporary living space, permanent housing and healthcare management for mentally ill and bipolar men by working with Nework180, Pine Rest’s Street Reach and Servants Center to get them off the street and receive mental healthcare management.

Trotter4Maintenance staff work inside the men’s chapel.Much of MTM ministry to the homeless and poor means building trust and relationships with them, VanKampen said.

“They often have a negative or no concept of God,” he said. “After they’ve been here a few weeks and they don’t have to worry about sleeping under a bridge, they’ll ask, ‘Tell me about this God.’ It opens a door because we love them.

It’s a mandate, not a suggestion

And Christ’s love is powerful, motivating force.

“If you took all the verses out of the Bible that related to the poor, it would reduce it by 75 percent,” VanKampen said. Even Jesus said, ‘the poor you will always have with you.’ Jesus was quoting an Old Testament passage and what it means is you’ll always have the poor and we’re mandated to help them.”

VanKampen said he draws insight when he looks out his office window on Commerce Avenue and sees a stream of people walk by, people looking for hope and unsure where to find it.

“A lot of people who also drive by never notice the person God’s called them to help,” he said. “Those of us you’ve been blessed should use those blessings to help those who are struggling, to bridge the gaps, to become the community Grand Rapids is proud of, to love these neighbors as themselves.”

Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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