Battle Creek

Planned closure of overnight Battle Creek Shelter has local faith leader looking for solutions

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.

BATTLE CREEK, MI — The Battle Creek Shelter is slated to close at the end of this month, but the organization contracted to manage the day-to-day operations of the facility isn’t ready to call it quits.

“The Battle Creek Shelter is in this amazing building and we would love it if we did an agreement that would allow us to lease it and continue to operate until the end of the year,” says Dr. Tino Smith, founder and CEO of Kingdom Builders (KBW) which is operating the BCS.

Smith says this will give him time to seek out funding sources that could keep the Shelter’s doors open beyond the end of 2024, something that he says will only happen with community support.

“If we allow this shelter to close, the city of Battle Creek is going to feel the impact on June 1,” he says, adding that keeping the doors open will require community buy-in.
“This decision, made by the shelter's governing board, marks a significant moment for our community,” Smith says. “As we announce this closure, KBW remains steadfast in our commitment to community development and empowerment.”

In addition to his comments, Smith posted a press release about the announcement on his Facebook page about three hours before the Board of Directors issued a press release on Wednesday morning announcing the closure of the Shelter which opened in 2020 at 209 E. Michigan Ave.

“It is with heavy hearts that we make this momentous decision,” says Todd McDonald, chair of the BCS  Board of Directors, in the press release.  “We have spent much time and effort working to find sustainable sources of funding for this much-needed shelter. Unfortunately, although government and philanthropic funding for housing increased in recent years, funds designated for shelter services have not. We have explored and  exhausted numerous avenues for operational support, but those efforts were not ultimately successful.” 

He went on to say, “We will work diligently over the next month with local partners to develop solutions for the shelter’s current patrons.”

Those partners include Haven of Rest Ministries and the SHARE Center, the City of Battle Creek, Calhoun County Government, and KBW. With the BCS closure, the Haven will be the only overnight shelter in the county. The SHARE Center is a day shelter.

“The SHARE Center has more than enough capacity to house the unsheltered during the day,” says its Executive Director Robert Elchert. “I want people to know that the unsheltered will have a place to go and receive services during the daytime.”
The BCS was designed to be open 24 hours a day year-round, operating as a low-barrier shelter that removes as many obstacles and admission requirements as possible for people to receive safe short-term shelter and find permanent housing, according to the press release.

Since it opened its doors more than three years ago, the Shelter provided a variety of services, including safe overnight housing, meals, clothing, showers, case management, and supplies, to hundreds of people. In 2023 alone, the shelter provided overnight shelter to 410 people — including 113 women and 39 military veterans — and served more than 19,000 meals, according to its Board of Directors.
The Shelter was launched in September 2020, when 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, a Battle Creek water park. Tents also were set up so that CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines and social distancing requirements could be met.

In 2023, the BCS Board of Directors developed a transition plan for the facility as it took several steps to achieve independence as a nonprofit organization, reduce expenses, and move out of the start-up phase that had been supported financially and operationally by the Battle Creek Community Foundation from the time the shelter opened until the sunset of that arrangement in December 2023.

KBW entered into a management agreement with the Shelter’s board of directors on January 1 and assumed operational control that day.

Smith says the closure impacts a staff of 15 he employed at the Shelter.

"Some of these people will lose their jobs, impacting their families. That’s one of my pains,” he says. “I will try to retain two people on a smaller scale.

In retrospect, he says he never would have “put my blood and sweat and commitment and 15 employees into this. I really was thinking we were going to make it to the end of the year.”

McDonald says the management agreement with KBW was short-term for four months with a month-to-month extension that finishes in May. He offered thanks to the “funders in the community who helped us to be able to make a plan to get (the Shelter) through the winter months.”

He says he and his fellow board members will determine what to do with the building after the facility closes.

“Generally, the board is open to community solutions to help make sure the unsheltered are served. We feel that closing the doors is creating a gap in services,” McDonald says.

Smith says he’s prepared to ensure that the service gap has a temporary seal while he works to devise a permanent fix.

“It’s one of the best facilities in the area,” he says. “It has brand-new everything in there.”

The Shelter, which has an annual budget of $475,000, began a major upgrade of its shower and restroom infrastructure earlier this year increasing the capacity from 50 to 80 individuals.

Smith says KBW is always focused on crafting lasting frameworks that support families and improve communities.

“Our approach is about more than immediate relief,” he says. "We hope to see a future where our initiatives can further evolve, creating sustainable opportunities that transcend temporary aid and foster long-term community resilience.”

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Read more articles by Jane Parikh.

Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.