HOLLAND, Michigan — A West Michigan pastor is hoping to get an initiative off the ground that he believes will give the homeless in Holland some peace and purpose they desperately need, but pushback from some community members may prevent the idea from becoming reality.
Willie Watt Jr. was homeless in 2007. Over the course of the last 14 years, he's turned his life around and is now hoping to help folks who are down-and-out like he was.
"Holland has about 137 people living on the streets right now," said Willie, who is the founder of Lifeline Ministries in Holland. "Low-incoming housing is very scarce in Holland."
Willie recently came across an initiative that's cutting down on homelessness in both the state of Oregon and as close as Detroit.
"There was nobody out there tackling this issue, so I decided to do it," Willie said.
He wants to bring what are called Conestoga Huts to Holland. They're durable micro-shelters, complete with heat, running water, electricity and a key. They're built like a wagon without wheels.
Each hut can house one person.
"I believe in hand-ups, not hand-outs," Willie said. "A lot of people's lives will change when they know they can lock something up and there's safety."
The homeless won't just receive shelter. Willie is partnering with many local entities to make sure these folks receive way more.
"With the hut, if you need rehab, I'm going to send you to Chicago for free rehab," said Willie. "And, I'm also going to provide jobs for you."
Willie says the people who opt to stay in the huts will receive paperwork so they can be recognized as actual residents of Holland.
"We will provide them with mailing addresses," Willie said. "How can these people get their stimulus or disability checks if they don't have a mailing address?"
A Holland family donated 89 acres to Willie to build his Conestoga Hut community, but he's getting pushback from Holland residents who fear such an endeavor will bring drugs, gangs and criminals to the area.
"This just shows how mean we've all become toward each other over the course of the last couple years," Willie said. "We are people helping people."
Willie says similar initiatives in both Oregon and Detroit have worked, so he's committed to generate similar results in Holland.
"I'm not making any money on this; not a single dime," Willie said. "Every cent is going to these huts to be built and to be put on that land and to take care of individuals that really need to be taken care of and re-learn how to be able to take care of themselves."
Willie says his organization needs to raise a minimum of $25,000 to start building the huts. Currently, they've only raised $5,000.
The goal, Willie says, is to have 60 huts built and inhabited before winter 2021.
If you're interested in donating, and/or volunteering your skills to help build the huts, click HERE and you'll be able to do either.
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