Heartside Ministry: A place for homeless to belong, to be loved, valued

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

hm235Heartside Ministry Executive Director Andy DeBraber stands next to some of the artwork displayed in its art gallery.Mention the word “community” and many people think of backyard barbecue get-togethers, white picket fences and manicured lawns. Say the same word to those who frequent Heartside Ministry at 54. S. Division Avenue in Grand Rapids, and the word takes on a different meaning.

“One of the hardest parts of being homeless is being judged,” said the Rev. Andy DeBraber, Heartside Ministry’s executive director for the last three years. “They’ve been marginalized and pushed away from a table or tables of families or churches.”

But during Heartside Ministry’s Sunday service that draws between 20 to 70 people, those tables are turned, particularly during communion, which is celebrated weekly.

Experiencing God’s grace

“Here they have a table where they are welcomed to experience God’s heart and grace, Christ’s presence and the (Holy) Spirit’s leading,” said DeBraber.”

The Rev. George Beukema founded Heartside Ministry in 1983,although many still today assume it was Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, who did serve as the ministry’s executive director and pastor from 1984-1998. Heartwell helped establish several programs for the ministry, including the Heartside Clinic and In the Image clothing and furniture ministry.

Purchase of building

Earlier this year, Heartside Ministry purchased the former Tini Bikini’s Bar and Grill at 78 S. Division Ave. for $449,900, with an eye on occupying it in the summer of 2016.

That’s when Heartside Ministry intends to move its full operations to the building, DeBraber said, but first, a two-phase reconstruction needs to be completed first.

The first phase is due to damages to the building’s façade in July 2014 when the driver of a van lost control and crashed into the building’s storefront. As a result, the storefront will be renovated as well as new entryway windows and façade improvements.

Phase two includes renovations to the basement and floors two and three of the building.

The ground floor will house the Heartside Gallery and a community center.

The basement will be transformed into studio space and will house a public restroom that will be open at all times.

The upper two floors will include office and meeting spaces and a chapel.

The building is 100 years old, DeBraber said, which once served as the first site for Brann’s restaurant in the 1960s and ‘70s known then as the Porterhouse Room.

Acute traumas

Heartside Ministry is one of several urban ministries based in the Heartside District, an area in downtown Grand Rapids that’s bounded approximately by Fulton and Wealthy streets and Grandville and Lafayette avenues.

hm2235Rev. DeBraber and a volunteer who helps run Heartside Ministry’s community room who said her name is Ra Ra.It’s an area where there is a concentration of homeless people, who also may be struggling with problems caused by extreme poverty, alcoholism, unemployment, mental and physical health problems or acute traumas in their lives, DeBraber said.

Acute traumas include addiction issues, the loss of a spouse, health crisis, parental physical abuse when they were younger, veterans grappling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and just living on the streets, which is “the same as combat in a war,” DeBraber said.

“We provide a safe haven from all that,” DeBraber said. “We don't ask for an ID or to fill out a demographic form. Those things tend to be demeaning and disrespectful. Our goal is to help them with what their hopes and dreams are while living with trauma on the streets.

One ministry, varied programs

The help people receive is nearly as varied as the problems they’re grappling with. Heartside Ministry offers alcoholic and narcotic support groups, general equivalency degree (GED) tutoring and GED testing center, confidential counseling, dual recovery for those struggling with mental illness and addictions, housing assistance, free legal help, therapeutic pottery sessions, a computer resource center, writers’ circle, worship and Sunday school and housing assistance.

hm335Every first Friday of the month, an artist repaints a wall in Heartside Ministry’s art gallery and also makes prints of it for sale.Then there’s its art studio and gallery, where artists meet to listen and encourage one another and create works of art.

“Our art program is a working gallery where people sell their art,” DeBraber said. “Last year, $17,000 of art was sold with 80 percent of the proceeds going to the artist and 20 percent toward art supplies.

Heartside Ministry’s annual budget is $500,000.

A community of support

DeBraber said the homeless and the marginalized are aware of how others perceive them.

“One of the hardest part of being homeless is being judged,” he said.

Jesus flips that hurtful attitude around.

“God’s Word tells us, ‘You are my beloved in whom I delight,’” DeBraber said.

“In the end, the way we define success is people knowing they’re loved, and knowing they’re valued. They find their voice knitted in a community of support. Here, people can literally picture a more hopeful future.”



(616) 235-7211
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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