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REALITY // APRIL 2014 // ISSUE NO 0001


Grand Rapids, MI

REALITY Grand Rapids, MI APRIL 2014 ISSUE NO 0001

By Audrey Spring

we’ve all seen liquor store be change the hair dirty, dreadloc mange he asked a could spare wit eyes “get a job slob” is all h forbid you ever mile in his shoes really might kno to sing the blues might know wha

the man at the eggin’ for your r on his face is cked and full of a man for what he th shame in his ob, you f*cking he replied god r had to walk a s ‘cause then you ow what it’s like s then you really at it’s like...

© 1998, Everlast

REALITY // APRIL 2014 // ISSUE NO 0001

TABLE OF CONTENTS 06 Author’s Introduction 08 Spotlight: Degage Ministries 10 Interview with Liz Warners 12 Gameplan 14 Willy Curtis Edwards 18 Gator Wow Bodacious 22 Deonta & Sharcona 26 Lucky 30 Candy Allen

REALITY // APRIL 2014 // ISSUE NO 0001

interesting and has touched my heart. I have a hard time

about the less fortunate that has always been very

which is a damn shame if you ask me. There is something

aside the issue when it is visible within the community,

world. The general population tends to pass by and push

INTRODUCTION: Homelessness–a reality for many around the

simplest gesture can completely turn around somebody’s

some pretty amazing things. It is mind-blowing how the

people and researching this issue, I have discovered

can do. However, throughout the process of interviewing

and it hurts me that there is not much financially that I

understanding why people are in certain predicaments,

just a few steps away from being in the same situation.

It is of key importance to keep in mind that we are all

feelings of those struggling to survive without a home.

community as well as spreading awareness regarding the

are to inform the public of the serious needs within the

day for the better. My aspirations for this publication


DEGAGE MINISTRIES INTRODUCTION: Degage Ministries is one of the homeless help centers within the city of Grand


Rapids, Michigan. Since 1967 they have functioned

Under 18 | 1%

as the primary community center in the Heartside

19-24 | 13%

Neighborhood. The word “degage” is a French

25-35 | 8%

verb meaning “to relax and be at ease.” The

36-45 | 25%

organization believes they exist because, as

46-55 | 38%

Mother Teresa once said, “We think sometimes that

Over 55 | 15%

poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and


uncared for is the greatest poverty.”

Male | 70%

Degage offers many services to those struggling

Female | 30%

and in need of help in Grand Rapids. The mission statement of Degage is “To reflect the love of Christ to all who come through our doors by building relationships and offering programs that foster dignity and respect.” They want to assure that every man and woman knows that he or she is not alone. There is a significant difference in an individual’s success rate if there is somebody

Race: Black | 49% White | 39% Hispanic | 5% Asian | 0% Native American | 3% Other | 4%

there to walk alongside with them during a time of crisis or transition. For individuals who are living outside on the streets and do not have any form of shelter from harsh conditions, a very friendly and welcoming environment mixed with a warm, filling meal can really go a long way. Every day of the week the organization provides this for those in need. An average of 1,500 meals and 2,000 cups of coffee


are served.

Education Level: Grades 1-8 | 5% Some High School | 23% Completed High School | 24% GED | 17% Some College | 20% College Degree | 8% Vocational Training | 3%

DEGAGE MINISTRIES Interview with Liz Warners

A| What are the main goals at Degage?

birth certificate. It is a long process. People are on that floor to help, listen,

L| We have a lot of different programs.

and assist for free. We do not let people

We serve breakfast and dinner. Sometimes

just hang out, they have to have a reason

on the last Friday of the month we serve

and a purpose to be in here. Floor 3 is our

lunch. The big thing that we premote here

women’s shelter called The Open Door. We

is dignity and respect. We do not give away

can house up to forty women a night–thirty

free meals. All of our meals are low-cost.

on the 3rd floor and ten on the 2nd floor.

The people can come up to our station and

Lockers, laundry, showers are available

order what they want and there is usually a

at night. If they are staying they get a

list with specials on it. There are always

locker. If anybody is staying with us for

different choices. They have their dignity

an extended period of time, they have to

where they can pick what they want to eat

meet with a patron advocate to help them

and that they pay for it. Even if it is

make a plan. We are just starting a male

little, they are still paying. People can

advocate plan here as well.

do choors around and earn vouchers. The vouchers are like money here. The big thing

A| Why specifically just for women?

that we do is promote work ethic. L| It is just what the community needed at A| What are some help programs that Degage

the time. We opened it in 2003. Between the

offers for patrons?

other shelters in the neighborhood there wasn’t just a women’s shelter and the women

L| On the second floor we have our Life

needed a safe place to go. There are family

Enrighment Center. It is open from 8AM-

and male shelters around as well. They have

11:30AM and then 1PM-3PM. Everyone has

to sign up the night before or the morning

a Virtual Case Manager card. If they use

of. If they do not show up, they can be

our services, they need to have a card. It

pentalized because there is a waiting

shows who is using what, how often, and for

list. Right now we are not at capacity.

how long. We also have the hygeine desk.

It just comes in waves. We have mats and

We have showers and laundry. There are

linens that we pull out every night. There

four seperate rooms, so they can have the

is a TV and a computer up there. It is a

privacy of their own room to get ready.

comfortable environment. Lights out is at

People without their own address can also

10:30 and they do Bible studies and events

use our address and we will hold mail or

some nights. Sometimes groups will come in

paychecks for them. We also have lockers

and bring a treat, or even do a spa night

that can be rented out for $2 a week. We

for the women. The women have to be in by

also do haircuts twice a week, lawyers

7:30. We do activities in the dining room

come in once a week for legal advice, and

as well like Bingo or karaoke. Many groups

there is a free phone for them to call

come in and do ice cream night or just talk

people. There is the resource office that

with the patrons.

people are in there to help fill out forms, housing, the entire process, medical help

A| How long has Degage been here?


with co-pays, bus passes, rides, anything people might need or want to talk about

L| It started in 1967 by Calvin College

to get the help that they need. The ID

students. It was just a coffee house for

office is helpful because it is really

students to just come and sit and enjoy

hard to get anything that you need without

each other’s company. They realized that

identification. It starts first with a

there was a huge need in the community

for homeless individuals, people who were

don’t like the shelters. We are a Christian

just not well off. It has just grown and

organization, and sometimes people do not

transformed from there.

want to be here if they are going to hear about God. It is just preference. If you

A| Are most of the people that come to

see people out on the street, most of the

Degage homeless?

time there is somewhere that they could go.

L| Nope. Some of them just do not have a lot

A| Do homeless individuals typically have

of money, or they were homeless. A lot of

low self-esteem issues and struggle with

people who are here were homeless and used

feelings of self worth and pride?

our resources. Now they have their own home and it is something to do. A lot of the

L| It is very important that they feel

people who have gone through our programs

that they are doing something positive for

might still not have a job and they have

themselves. That is our biggest thing here.

found this community. They have friends

Dignity and respect and treating everybody

here and the staff too. Many of the people

as individuals so that nobody feels any

also stay around to help out. We do have

different from us.

patron volunteers who have been trained and who come in and serve. It is all about the

A| How do they typically feel about the

community, family, and support system here.

general population?

A| How many different types of people walk

L| Everybody is different with their

through the doors of Degage?

opinions. Everyone down there is so nice They approach me and want to know my name.

L| We don’t take statistics a lot. It is

I think, if you are open and nice with

hard to tell if someone is an addict, or

anyone, they will be nice too. It is just

whatever. It is a pretty diverse group down

like with anyone. If the general population

there. Most are middle-aged adults.

is mean, they will be mean back too. The people appreciate me, just as I appreciate

A| How can the general public help out?

them. There are angry people down here, but it is not directed at anyone in particular.

L| By donating and by volunteering. We use about thirty volunteers a day, between

A| What is their largest daily struggle?

the dining room, second floor, and third floor. We have a lot of volunteers. If we

L| I think it really varies. Some people,

cannot fit in any volunteers, we recommend

it’s addictions. For some people it is that

that they come here and host an activity

they are missing that family structure.

instead. This way, they can start making

Many people are here simply because they

relationships with people and get to know

are lonely. They usually have the money to

the organization. Donations are also great.

get the food, and it is not usually that

53% of our annual income is from individual

they are hungry. Patrons can get vouchers

donations. This, and awareness is big.

if they mop after dinner. When the general population gives money away to people, it

A| When the weather gets really bad, where

is enabling them and is not fostering self-

do people go?

respect. When patrons can earn their meals themselves, it makes them feel like they are taking care of themselves and being

during dining hours. Other shelters are

productive. We also encourage people to buy

open during the times when we are not.

vouchers to hand out to homeless who might

Also, the library will not kick people out

approach people asking for money. This way,

if they are not noisy. The parks are also

they can be led to Degage to get the help

where people stay. Also, some people just

and services that they might really need.


L| If it is bad out, they can be here


services at the Ministry. In exchange for

“Hi! Can I talk to you for a minute? I am

interviews, I am handing out vouchers for

doing a project for my class at Kendall, the

meals and services. I really want to hear

art school right down the road. I am creating

life stories of people who do visit Degage

a publication for my Graphic Design class.

and the surrounding shelters. Not only am I

I just have a few questions if you would be

interested in the things that people have to

willing to talk with me. Have you ever been

say, but I also want to spread awareness and

to Degage? Well, basically I am interviewing

encourage others to notice and help those in

individuals around the area who utilize the

need. I am curious, so let’s get started!”

MAIN QUESTIONS ASKED: “What is your name? How old are you?”

“How often do surrounding people ignore

“How long have you been in Grand Rapids?”

you or are rude to you on the streets when

“What was the breaking point for you?”

you ask for help? What do you do?”

“What is your most difficult struggle on a

“Why do you think that people react this way

daily basis? What is the hardest thing?”

toward you? How do you feel about it?”

“What makes you angry in regards to the

“What is your impression of you? How highly

general population? Do you feel angry?”

do you view yourself as a person?”


WILLY CURTIS EDWARDS I was walking around the city of Grand Rapids,and I noticed a man asking for change from passerbys. As a small child placed loose coins in his hand, I observed that not many seemed to turn him down. I was quick to find out that this most likely was the outcome of his kind and gracious mentality as well as his overall positive outlook on life. Willy, a jobless man of the age of thirty-nine years, has been wandering the streets of Grand Rapids since 2001 when his large family kicked him out of his house. Recently, he has been staying at Exodus, a nearby help center for


homeless within the city.

“If you don’t like where you at, you’re not gonna like where you goin.”

I’ve always been that guy, the one-upper. Ever since I was little. If you like butter, I like butter pecan.”

People don’t have the family I have.

When I do fall, it’s for crack. Next thing I know, $130 is gone.

The most offensive thing is when people assume you are on hard drugs. I can laugh off alcohol or marijuana maybe.. Just don’t fall too many times.

I have been working with them since 2003 to get a job.

The in-house nurse at Exodus tells me to take my pills.

I was in college. I left. If that wasn’t a poor choice, I don’t know what was.

I’m not chronically ill, I’m making poor choices.

Dealing with my mental state and choices. Slowing down is not stopping.

I don’t know where I would be headed if it weren’t for familiar faces.

I come from a working family.

Some people just say ‘I ain’t gonna change.”

If you don’t like where you at, you’re not gonna like where you goin.

People are rude.

For people with not much else going on, it’s easier than finding help.

I rent a room at Exodus [a help center downtown].

My family has now grown up in my absense. Been gone so long. I don’t want to force my way back in, out of my own stubbornness. I do what I want to do.

I got kicked out of my home. I have a large family. They got fed up with me breaking curfews and smoking.

I’ve been dealing with this area since 2001. People know if you are here to stay. There are good people out there to help you.

“I am 39.


GATOR WOW BODACIOUS I met Gator [Todd] was on the curb of the street of Ionia. He was leaning on a walker next to a polished, black Harley Davidson, just quietly admiring it. He was mesmerized by the beastly rumbling and was commenting on its beauty to the owner of the bike, who barely even acknowledged his presence. Once the man rode off, Gator said, “It’s okay! I’ve got my Harley right here!” He patted his walker lovingly and smiled.



“They call me Gator. I’m 59 years old. I’ve been around here for 13 years. Let’s go sit over on the steps on that corner. I’m writing a book on my life and homelessness. Channel 8 wants to interview me. They offered me $100K. I used to bowl a lot and box. Also, I’m a really good drummer. I’ve got my Harley right here! I got half a foot cut off, no bullsh*t! With a hacksaw. I’ve been stabbed for two bucks. They stole it and laughed. Oh by the way, I’m a grandpa! Kyler. Three and a half months old. Wow man. I have cellulitus. Look it up. Sometimes the bar around the corner gives me soup and hot coffee when it’s cold out. I’m gonna name my book ‘How to Become a Millionare Ask Me How I’m Still F*ckin Alive’ I’ve been hit with a bat. I’m still alive. I had a bag of cans. Somebody hit me in the back of the head. They thought I was dead. I can smell people. I look at them, if I want. I can’t understand people man. They are winged out. Nimrads... I have an ex-wife. ‘The Blonde Bomber.’ My daughter is Theresa. If you buy a car, buy a Chevy. They;re the strongest. They did a study. See you around like a donut! My dad died when I was five. My mom had Alzheimer’s. I started shaving when I was ten or somethin.. I rode with the world’s best cowboys. Bruce Ford. He owns his own rodeo in Utah. That’s where I used to live when I was happily married, till I screwed that up. Anyway! There’s more money in dirt than you can shake a stick at. You’ve got great handwriting. Of course, I can’t see! I was a drummer, pretty good one back in the day! I’ve lost thirty-five Vietnam vets out here. Kipper. That’s my best bud. Make sure you write that down. Mark had his throat cut. He died in seven minutes. Look at that dog! Look at those birdies! I feed all the critters.”

“ I can’t understand people man. They are winged out. Nimrads...”


“[The hardest part is] not having a family or a support system. Degage is that right now.�



“I’ve been here for six years now. I’m from New Orleans, but I came here for a traveling job. I struggle most with paying my bills. I like to go to the other ministries too, like Meltrotter when it’s cold. There are nice and rude people.”


“I’ve been here since March. Originally I’m from Chicago. The hardest part is not having a family or a support system. Degage is that right now. I stay here at night. It’s only for women. During the day I go to the library or the park. I can go to the Heartside shelter Monday through Friday. I think Grand Rapids needs more services. They need more shelter. It’s limited.”

“Once you find something positive, things will progress. You just got to stay positive.�

LUCKY Not only have I interviewed Lucky, AKA Daniel, but I have also befriended him. Everyone I have met has had it tough, to say the least, but he is one interesting and optimistic individual. Lucky is friends with everybody downtown, and his presence is one that adds to and brightens days. He is such an honest and genuine individual. He is happy to celebrate life and learn from his past mistakes in order to make himself a better person.



“I’ve been in Grand rapids since the end of 2003. I’m originally from Holland. I grew up in foster care. Technically I’m halfway enrolled in Cornerstone. Degage helps with hygiene, mail, and they give you a little push. My biggest challenge is finding a job. Progression is hard. Once you get out of it, you will stay out. Once you come up, you can help others to come up and be a leader. Everybody has their own lifestyle. I don’t hold anything against people. I like to go to the park, take walks, go to the fish ladder, look for jobs. After I got out of prison I worked as a forge temp at American Laundry and Dewitt Barrels. I use Degage as my address. Once I’m out of the hole, I want to finish schooling. I used to play semi-pro football for the Grand Rapids Thunder. I kickboxed, wrestled, boxed, and did martial arts in the street. If I have a problem with somebody, I just walk away. I view myself as a single man looking for a way out of a negative situation. Once you find something positive, things will progress. You just got to stay positive. I go to Heartside Shelter to use the computers. I have a Facebook. When it’s cold outside, you can go to the bus station. I like to play pool. It’s only a dollar at Cousin’s. That’s in the Alpine/Leanord area. It’s good exercise.”


CANDY ALLEN In this picture, Candy is wearing my glasses. She pulled them off so well that I gave them to her. Candy makes her presence known! She is a loud, spunky chick and she is friendly with everyone. She has had it rough, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by her smiling


face and bright personality.

‘Life is good and I am blessed!’ my dad always said.”

I’m going to go to school for cosmotology. Empire Beauty School.

My mom lives in Lowell.

I havent been to an OB-GYN yet. I can’t find a doctor to take Medicare.

I’ve done heroin, meth, crack, weed.

I did do crack the other day though. I’m trying really hard to quit.

On Monday I start at McDonalds.

Everybody down here is family. Sh*t, I’ve had a boyfriend everyday this week!

Girl fights happen all the time at Degage because they steal from each other.

Today I got back in at Degage. I also got free spaghetti today.

I stay at Degage now, but they had kicked me out because I got into a fight with a girl.

In the winter I was walking the streets. I didn’t know where to go.

I want to move to somewhere warm.

Next year I’m going to Wisconsin to try out for American Idol.

I came here because I was my sister-in-law’s maid of honor. I sang a song of dedication.

I was a prostitute for six years, and was held at gunpoint for a pair of shoes.

I’ve been raped, stabbed, shot. I don’t know the father, that was my fifth time being raped.

Been homeless for seven years.

I’ve been addicted to crack for ten years.

Lived here for ten years. I’m from South Carolina.

I’m five months pregnant. Its my first kid. Her name will be Shylynn Michelle, if it’s a girl.

“Yes, Candy is my real name. My mama picked it out.


“Life is good and I am blessed!”




Publication of Homeless in Grand Rapids, Michigan

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