Many of you have followed my work in a local homeless shelter through this blog (see "theatre with the homeless" and "homeless shelter" labels off to the right). In describing the theatre, though, I might not have given a full picture of the place. Degage Ministries, here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is unique in its approach to serving the homeless. Stop in the dining room, for example, and note that food is not simply handed out: It costs money. Not too much money, but something, and the point is to preserve the dignity of those who eat there.
I had the privilege of meeting recently with executive director Marge Palmerlee, who caught me up on the latest developments in the shelter. Over coffee at Panera, she explained that the numbers at the overnight shelter have increased dramatically; we cried together as she described a day in winter when she handed out the number 31 to a woman, who knew only 30 were allowed inside. Pure fear froze her where she stood.
But there were happy tears, too, for Degage is always moving forward and looking for the best ways to serve. The women who spend the night at The Open Door now have a case worker following them throughout the day. More effort has been put into getting long-term patrons into apartments, where appropriate. When I asked about one woman I remembered, who had a past in massage, Marge told me they bought her a table and she now has clients of her own.
You will not find "buy a massage table for an alcoholic homeless woman" in any guide book for running a shelter. That's what makes Degage so darn impressive and downright inspirational.
Their latest unique initiative is to build a roof-top garden and greenhouse on the roof of the shelter. Patrons will benefit from eating the healthy, locally-grown food as well as learning to grow it. This marvelous idea can take root if enough people vote online here:
You'll find a full description of the project under Degage Ministries. I'm getting worried, because there are many worthy organizations listed, and two animal agencies are surpassing Degage's vote.
Can you take a minute to register and vote? You can vote up to once each day 'til August 17.