Story by Elizabeth Walztoni, Staff Writer
Photo courtesy of hollandhome.org
The Fulton Manor Holland Home, perhaps best known by Aquinas students as the large building across the street from Family Fare, will be fulfilling a new purpose this year.
Since 1912, the Fulton Manor location of Holland Home had provided assisted living and memory care. According to CEO Mina Breuker, the facility began to receive fewer patients as home care became more easily available. The building was also becoming out of date for modern patients and renovations would cost millions. A third of the facility was empty for four years as a result, leading the board to consider transition options.
By November 2018, all residents had been moved out of Fulton Manor. Parts of the building are still used; transportation services for all of Holland Home are housed there, and some space was leased out until this coming spring to PACE (Program for All-inclusive Care for the Elderly), which currently cares for 225 of the nursing-home eligible on Medicaid.
A use for the rest of the facility until the space is sold or redeveloped was proposed this winter by Family Promise, a local organization that helps homeless families find permanent housing. On any given night there are 100-120 families without a house in Grand Rapids, often victims of rising rents throughout the city. Family Promise had lost funding in October that allowed them to provide hotel rooms for these families in transition and hoped to lease the Fulton location as an emergency shelter for one year. Breuker said that Holland Home chose to move ahead with the idea because it came at the right time and aligned with their values.
The proposal needed a special land-use permit from the city planner, which required meetings with the community. Though the application was approved unanimously by the City Commission, the largest obstacles appeared during the process of neighborhood approval, according to Don Lee. Lee is head of the Eastown Community Association (ECA), which helped promote the project and facilitated informational meetings for residents; the ECA felt that the proposal was consistent with their mission of building community and lifting the marginalized voice. He was careful to add that official complaints on these subjects were few.
Some were concerned about a parking shortage, which Lee said was a minor concern to the ECA because they do not place “parking over people” in terms of importance (according to Breuker, only 20% of the families own vehicles). Others worried that Family Promise might end up becoming a permanent fixture at Fulton Manor, in particular because once a special land-use permit is issued, the city has no mechanism to change it back and the land keeps special zoning indefinitely. The ECA responded to these worries as “fear mongering” and said that they choose to trust in the goodness of all parties involved.
Perhaps the biggest community concern, however, stemmed from what Lee calls the “unsubstantiated idea that there is an element of criminality to being homeless.” Some Aquinas students and local residents alike worried that the neighborhood would become dangerous. On the community app Nextdoor, arguments boiled about the central location of the shelter. “These people seem very eager to put hundreds of random strangers on my block,” said one. “Not in my backyard,” was a sentiment echoed by several.
According to both Lee and Breuker, those concerns of criminality seemed resolved when residents learned more about how the shelter will work. Fulton Manor will only house adults with children, and roughly 70% of those adults have jobs. The average stay is 20 days until the family is placed in permanent housing and there will be 24/7 security on the site. Neighboring schools St. Thomas and Abney Academy both sent letters of support for the project, and many local nonprofit organizations including Mel Trotter Ministries, Degage Ministries, the United Way and the Grand Rapids Coalition to End Homelessness lent resources.
Bonnie Kovacs, a 42-year Fulton Heights resident who had stayed in Fulton Manor for a period herself when it was operational, said that she could not understand how there might be opposition to the project. “It’s the humane thing to do,” she added, to get kids and families off of the street for a night. Nancy Lee, another longtime area resident who was excited by repurposing the building, felt that “no one is out to make trouble, they’re just looking for a roof over their head.” A number of Aquinas students agreed with these sentiments.
The conversion process is underway and around 80 families at a time are expected to live there until December of this year. “It’s tough out there,” Lee said, but for some it will get a little easier.
About the Writer:
Elizabeth Walztoni is a sophomore majoring in Geography with a minor in writing.