Arguably the most diverse neighborhood in Grand Rapids (although we know how fast our neighborhoods are changing these days!), Heartside Neighborhood has a unique place in the Grand Rapids landscape. Living in a diverse space can help people to learn about the world outside their own experiences, and it can also make them uncomfortable. I submit to you that this discomfort is a good thing, for without discomfort we have no impetus to grow.
For decades, this part of town held vacant buildings and little investment. People struggling with poverty and homelessness were the main population in the area, assisted by ministries that came along to help. These organizations, Mel Trotter, Dégagé, Heartside, Guiding Light, Catholic Charities, and others, saw how our society had left people behind and worked to ensure they were not forgotten.
Recently, Heartside has seen a great deal of investment and growth. New and interesting shops and galleries have sprung up throughout the neighborhood, including along Division Avenue. This kind of urban revitalization can be a great thing, no neighborhood should struggle through without investment, but it needs to be good for all of the neighbors. And these are neighbors that are not going anywhere. Thankfully, many of those people who had been left behind have now found permanent housing in the neighborhood through places like Dwelling Place that provide housing for people with little to no income. The people that you see frequenting Pekich and Heartside Parks or waiting for lunch at God’s Kitchen may, in fact, be living in an apartment close by.
All of these people, housed or not, have just as much right to the neighborhood as anyone else. Blaming those in poverty for things like business closures or property values is a cheap shot. People don’t want to experience homelessness, they don’t want to live in poverty—they did not cause the inequity in our community, they are the ones suffering most because of it. Rather than blaming the victims of disenfranchisement, racism, and historical oppression, I challenge you to go after the root causes. The only reason there is homelessness is that we built a world in which it can exist. We are not powerless to dismantle it.
Here are just a few of the ways you can help:
- Support those Heartside orgainzations serving the people in the neighborhood and the system working to end homelessness of which they are a part
- Explore partnerships between your business and workforce development organizations like West MI Works!
- Advocate for more high density, affordable housing
- Learn about the history of disenfranchisement in Grand Rapids by reading A City Within A City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids by Todd Robinson and what you can do about it today through Partners for a Racism Free Community
- Get involved in the system change work of the Coalition to End Homelessness, Essential Needs Task Force and KConnect