Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.
At one time it was not difficult to get lost in the connected buildings next door to the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission.
Once the Mission’s primary facility for families, the four connected structures had narrow stairways that lead from one area to another, worn floors with spots that had uneven boards, and areas that had been converted to provide space for childcare, counseling, and other services.
Pastor Michael L. Brown anticipates the opening of the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission’s new women and children’s shelter in February.
Parts of the structures at 448 N. Burdick St. were dilapidated and taken out of service after suffering water damage and, in 2018, after sustaining fire damage. The facility was beyond saving, Pastor Michael L. Brown said after a capital campaign was launched in 2018 to raise some $10 million to demolish the structures and replace them with a new facility to house the many women and children who seek temporary shelter and support services at the mission.
The president and chief executive of the Gospel Mission says he’s excited about what lies just ahead -- a beautiful and secure new shelter for women and children nearing completion immediately west of the Mission’s main facility.
“It was supposed to initially be done in October,” says Brown. “But some of the subcontractors started getting sick. They started losing guys with COVID. So that put us behind a little bit. Now, we’re hoping to be done by the end of February.”
The Gospel Mission is a Christ-based organization that provides free meals and lodging to hundreds of men, women, and children each year. It also offers a slate of employment, substance abuse, and personal improvement programs to those in need. It has been operating in downtown Kalamazoo for more than 88 years.
“It’s going to take us from 131 beds to 191 beds,” Brown says referring to the number of sleeping spaces for women and children, who are currently housed in facilities on the second floor of the mission’s main facility. Men are housed in that building, but separately. And that is just the beginning of the growth in the Mission's ability to serve those in need and provide space for those seeking a place to sleep.
The three-story, 47,000-square-foot women and children’s shelter replaces four connected structures the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission had at 448 N. Burdick St.
The new three-story, 47,000-square-foot facility will feature rooms that accommodate family units. They will be apartment-style family suites, each with up to four beds for a woman and her children. According to information provided by the Mission, there will also be open family rooms for games and homework.
“The second and third floors will be pretty much identical,” Brown says, referring to providing space for those things. “The first floor is going to have the women’s emergency shelter.”
It will provide secure emergency housing for women and children who are otherwise faced with domestic violence and single women who faced sexual trafficking.
The number of emergency shelter spaces will grow from 150 to 210 and, Brown says, “One of the things that we’re doing is we’re getting people off of the mats on the floor and we’re putting them on cots.”
Brown says that will account for the Mission’s lowest level of service “because some people just want to get out of the cold weather. They don’t want to change their life. They don’t want you to tell them anything about improving anything. And that’s all they want is to get in out of the cold.”
Crosses on the main facilities of the Christ-based Kalamazoo Gospel Mission complement those of it new women and children’s shelter, immediately to the left (west). The mission includes several buildings near North Burdick and East Kalamazoo Avenue i
The number of guests the mission will be able to see for long-term case management services will grow from 755 to 1,225. And the number of people able to receive ongoing mental health and addiction services is expected to grow from 460 to 550.
Although it had to cancel a major fund-raising event after the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, the Gospel Mission has been able to raise the money it needs for the project thus far by reaching out to donors directly. It has benefitted from the generosity of foundations including the largest matching gift the organization has ever received. That was an agreement from the Bill & Julia Van Domelen Foundation to match $575,000 contributed by others. That resulted in an infusion of $1.15 million.
Brown says the Mission will continue to solicit sponsors for individual rooms inside the new facility to raise funds for needed furnishings and equipment. Those interested in making a contribution may find more information on the Gospel mission’s website here
Among other things, the new facility will provide the mission, which has daily prayer services, with its first dedicated chapel in many years. A multi-purpose area inside the main building has served that purpose. While the new chapel will have the capacity to be used for multiple purposes, it will regularly provide room for 250 people to worship.
“We haven’t had a dedicated chapel for years,” Brown says. “And so now we’re going to have a dedicated chapel on that first floor.”