Holland woman fights to reduce teen homelessness
A bus idled the corner of West 20th and Maple in Holland as Clint Maki readied for his weekly trip. On Sundays, Maki is a bus driver. A far cry from the realtors day job, but not so far from his passion for helping homeless find salvation.
It's snowing and Maki worried if the bus will be able to complete the trip as he plowed through an intersection.
"Good morning!" he shouted as he opened the bus doors outside of a homeless shelter. Dozens of women, some with children, piled into the bus, it was nearly full.
"If I missed anyone, text them and tell them I'll come back for them," he shouted to the crowd.
The bus is buzzing as it made its way through the city of Holland towards a destination, the girl sitting next to me, can't wait to get to.
"I want to go to school for ministry," she said as she cradled her bible.
The sound of live music poured out of House of the Lord's Grace. Men, women, children quickly scurry out, some rush into the building while others walk to the back for a quick cigarette. All eventually file in, as the sound of piano and drums and the scent of pancakes fill the room.
"Welcome to House of the Lord's Grace ," Susan Gray said from in front of the room. Gray is Maki's realty partner and the founder of the church.
On Saturday nights and Sunday mornings Maki and Gray team together and pick up some of the less fortunate and giving them what seems like a fortune. A message, a warm meal, and a guiding hand for those who may feel like they have nothing.
"Gather with them and help people get to the next level. What's the next stage of success for that person?" Gray asked.
This isn't the only effort Gray has made to combat the homeless issue. Empty beds go untouched in the back of Gray's church, a sight sometimes difficult for her to see.
"Oh everyday. Everyday it does," she said. "As we know some are staying in the parks, some in tents, knowing that we have a resource that we are not able to offer right now is very very difficult."
Over the last few months Gray has battled to open a teen mission that would house a dozen boys at the church.
In the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District alone 1,041 students were considered homeless last year, about 15 percent of those students are without a parent or guardian.
"We don't have a place for teens to go," Stacey Sills with OAISD told a Planning Commission in November.
Up until four months there was no place for any teens to go. Now Holland has a home for teen girls but the closest boys shelter is in Grand Rapids. Efforts to combat that issue have been blocked by neighbors.
"We've collected 68 signatures against this proposal," a neighbor told the Planning Commission in November.
The Commission also advised Gray they would not vote to re-zone the property to open the home. But those are barriers that aren't stopping Gray, as she seeks legal counsel.
On Cascade West Parkway Drive in southeast Grand Rapids, attorney Terry Heiss sat in his conference room.
"Someone has to hold the government accountable even at the local level," he said.
Heiss is a lawyer advising Gray, he's also a pastor helping her explore some non 24-hour shelter alternatives.
"Let's say it's just until 10:00 p.m." Gray said.
"With allowing for students to be a more successful by offering internet experience for their homework, by offering a warm meal for those who don't have a place to eat a warm meal, by offering a laundering service so that someone can have a clean change of clothes for a job interview or to go to school clean."
Something Gray's attorney believes council doesn't have any right to regulate.
"The church building is located on property within the RTRN zone and within that zone permitted uses are churches and it's not just 'church building' but it says 'church uses' " Heiss said.
"So the question for me, I had to analyze is, is Susan's desire to establish a teen and adult outreach program part of a church use? And I believe it is."
A clear sign this battle is far from over. Gray is determined to give those that feel unwanted, a haven and a purpose.
"No we are not giving up," she said. "There's no part of us that is walking outside of peace or being conflictive about this, on the other hand, someone has to stand for the rights of children."
Ottawa County Resources
If you or a loved one found yourself in a similar situation, help is available. Your child could qualify for help through other programs and resources available at the school. You can find your district homeless liaison and ask about rights and potential services here.