Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
Since opening its doors in September, the Battle Creek Homeless Shelter has been providing about 55 individuals with a warm and safe place to go during the day and overnight accommodations for 30 males, says Brenda Hunt, President, and CEO with the Battle Creek Community Foundation and a board member with the nonprofit entity that owns and operates the facility.
The building housing the shelter at 209 E. Michigan Ave. was being leased. On Monday, Hunt announced the purchase of that property and another building, on the same parcel of land which has an address of 211 E. Michigan Ave. Hunt says options are being discussed for the second building which could be leased out or sold. The cost of the two buildings was $305,000.
The funds to purchase the buildings came from a variety of sources including Calhoun County government, the Downtown Development Authority, BCCF, and private donors.
Hunt says the total cost to make the necessary renovations to the 10,4000 square-foot homeless shelter, including the installation of bathrooms and showers, will be about $750,000. She says she hopes those costs will be covered through donations from community members and others.
The need for shelter space to complement that already existing in the city became obvious earlier this year. An existing need was made more pressing by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hunt says.
Local businesses, organizations, and individuals recognized the severity of the homeless situation in Calhoun County and how the pandemic was making an already critical situation even worse. As part of a plan to provide immediate shelter to those in need, city leaders allowed the SHARE Center to establish a shelter at Full Blast. Tents also were set up so that CDC guidelines and social distancing requirements could be met.
Those services provided at Full Blast were transitioned into the new homeless shelter. The nonprofit overseeing that shelter – Battle Creek Homeless Shelter Inc. -- is subcontracting with the SHARE Center and the Haven of Rest Ministries, which had been the only overnight shelter for the homeless in Calhoun County with the capacity to serve 100 people.
The day-to-day operation of the shelter will be handled by Amaya Williams, a Corporate Facilities officer for BCCF and the Kool Center. Williams will serve as the homeless shelter’s interim director for the first quarter of 2021. Hunt says Williams be “on loan to get policies and methodologies in place” for the facility while also working on more long-term housing initiatives.
“We think that not everybody needs to live in a shelter,” Hunt says. “Some could live in a supportive housing environment. We’ll start that continuum in 2021.”
Services at the city’s newest shelter include meals and showers. Those in need will also be linked to other services that provide permanent housing, employment, and mental health support once the program is fully operational.
The East Michigan Avenue shelter is opened 24/7 though the overnight component is available only to men between the hours of 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. Space is limited to 56 people. The shelter is available to both men and women from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Hunt says there is additional space that is being reconfigured and is scheduled to be ready next week for those who must be quarantined. Shelter options for women will eventually be provided.
There are an estimated 1,200 individuals in Calhoun County identified as homeless, of those about 33 percent are women.
“We are working on an area for women so we can have a spot for them if they present themselves. We haven’t had a shelter for women like this,” Hunt says. “There needs to be a barrier-free shelter for women who are going to SAFE Place and other shelters as a result of there not being a barrier-free shelter.”
The Haven offers Inasmuch House as a shelter for women and families, but it has limited capacity.
“We certainly believe there’s a broader need for a family shelter too and we’re looking at those needs. If we have another Polar Vortex we need to look at where are the places in town that people can get into,” Hunt says. She also says there are concerns about the number of people who may be left homeless when those who have fallen behind in the rent due to the economic effects of the pandemic face eviction.
This is among the reasons that board members with the new shelter are prioritizing the need to get people into stable housing situations.
“Our board has a list of shelters that use best practices. We are currently looking at our programming and values and systems to help folks develop a culture of values. The other part of this is to take a look at how we stabilize living environments for these individuals.”
As work on the shelter moves forward to include permanent bathroom and shower facilities that will be installed later in 2021 to replace the temporary ones now there, board members will be looking at programming models and how the shelter can link up with other programs along with the mission, vision, and scope of how other shelters have gotten this work done.
Hunt says it’s important to note that the homeless shelter’s board includes individuals who are and have been homeless. She says their experiences are a critical part of the conversations taking place.
“We really want to work on the kinds of environments we can create so that individuals don’t remain homeless,” Hunt says.
In this season of giving…
Hunt says she and fellow board members with Battle Creek Homeless Shelter Inc., are looking for additional funds from community members to cover the cost of ongoing improvements to the building. Those interested in making a financial gift may contact the BCCF at (269) 962-2181.
BCCF also is sponsoring a basic necessities drive to benefit the city’s homeless population. They are collecting donations of items such as socks; reading glasses; baby blankets and wipes; personal care items; and winter hats, gloves, and scarfs, at Necessity Drop-Off boxes located at the Battle Creek Homeless Shelter; Washington Heights United Methodist Church, 153 North Wood Street N; or the Riverwalk Center, 34 Jackson Street W. This drive will go through the first week of January 2021.