Donut Shop’s Closing Highlights Need for Mel Trotter to Come Alongside Least of These with Wide-Ranging Services, Programs

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Dennis VanKampen No. 1 Mel Trotter Ministries CEO Dennis Van Kampen: “My greatest satisfaction with working at Mel Trotter Ministries is seeing someone live the life they were meant to live.”When small businesses close their doors, it seldom generates a blip on news organizations’ radar. That wasn’t the case when Propaganda Doughnuts decided earlier this year to shutter its business, stirring a divisive buzz about the public’s view of the homeless — and what can be done to help them.

Formerly located at 117 S. Division Avenue, Propaganda Doughnuts’ owner and landlord said the reasons they closed the donut shop was because customers often complained of panhandlers begging for money, public urination, sleeping in doorways and on sidewalks.

Propaganda Doughnuts was 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.

Couldn’t overcome ‘the problem’

“Unfortunately, we were unable to find answers and overcome the problem of the increasing amount of homeless and disadvantaged people who now frequent the street in front of our location,” read a Facebook post after the shop closed in July. The post has since been taken offline.

“It was too much to ask our customers to accept being harassed and approached by panhandlers. Customers were also having to walk past intoxicated and passed-out people on the sidewalks and in the doorways. Some customers were approached and panhandled even before getting out of their vehicles. The street is also having an increasing problem of the doorways and other areas being used as sleeping areas and bathrooms.”

Dennis Van Kampen, CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries (MTM), said he understands the challenges businesses face, including the donut shop that was about three blocks north of MTM. But he sees another side to the homeless condition as well.

MTM helps anyone who is homeless, no preconditions

MTM helps all homeless people, said Van Kampen. That’s key to the ministry’s mission, and why businesses can remain in the Heartside district and earn a profit.

An average of 50 to 60 percent of the people MTM ministers to have serious mental illnesses, along with chronic addictions and extensive criminal records, according to Van Kampen. That doesn’t excuse their behavior, but does help to explain what steps are necessary to help them, he said.

Safety net for least of these

While seeing people sleep in doorways and alleys and panhandle for money is a highly visible aspect of the homeless, it’s equally important to understand the flip side of what ministries like MTM accomplishes for them, which isn’t always as obvious, said Van Kampen. MTM is the safety net for the lease of these.

In 2015, MTM served more than 4,600 people, helped more than 170 find permanent housing and find full-time work for 120. Many more committed or recommitted their lives to Jesus.

“We help all people who are chronically homeless or situationally homeless who need a little bit of help to get them back on track,” said Van Kampen.

Success in helping the homeless find a place to live, a job or to conquer an addiction comes down to this principle: Helping people through comprehensive programs and services, made possible with an annual budget of $11 million.

Range of services, programs

The nonprofit’s range of programs and services include a food pantry, job training, transitional housing, substance abuse recovery program, a day center that helps the homeless find homes and employment, dental, vision, chiropractic and legal clinics, a men’s, women’s and children’s shelter and a youth emergency shelter, a substance abuse recovery program and, its most recent development and a satellite outreach in the Rockford area.

“They may have had 10 years of addiction but it’s rotted their teeth so how do you get a job looking like that?” said Van Kampen. “They can go to our (dental) clinic and get a new smile and have the confidence to get a job. We’re trying to look at people as unique individuals and have a holistic approach with them to try and help them.

“Because if we just address one problem, you haven’t helped the whole person,” continued Van Kampen. “If you help them get a home but not their addiction, they cannot get on with life. We meet people where they are in life. We accept and welcome them and figure out what their best path is and help them move forward. Our goal is to help them with a job, and housing for some; it’s education for some; it’s transportation for others, getting their (driver’s) license or bus route.”

Van Kampen smiles. He knows the least of these can change their lives around and become productive again.

And perhaps even work at donut outlet one day.

“My greatest satisfaction with working at Mel Trotter Ministries is seeing someone live the life they were meant to live,” said Van Kampen. “It’s seeing someone who has no hope, who didn’t think their life could be any different than it is right now and seeing them desperately cry out for help and work with our staff and end up with a job and a house and become a contributing member of society, something they never thought possible.”

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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