Joy, Hope, and Ice Cream
Ice cream. Today, they get to choose what flavor of ice cream they want. They get to choose if they want sprinkles. Whipped cream. Hot fudge. Today, instead of holding a bottle of liquor in her hand, Tia is holding a spoon to enjoy her ice cream sundae. Today, instead of locking herself away in her apartment, Milly is enjoying the laughter and conversation that is taking place at the ice cream social. And, today, James has the freedom to wheel himself to the ice cream social and make himself whatever kind of sundae his taste buds are craving. Today, there is hope. There is independence. And, where there is ice cream, there is always joy.
Dwelling Place, a non-profit, affordable housing developer, had a vision to bring new life and opportunities to downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. With support from Cinnaire, through the allocation of Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Federal Historic Tax Credits, this vision was brought to fruition. In 2013, the former historic Hotel Herkimer opened its doors to provide newly renovated, permanent supportive housing for homeless, or near-homeless, individuals and/or persons with disabilities. Tia, Milly, and James each have a unique story to tell, yet there is one commonality among their stories: Herkimer Apartments has provided them with a place to call their own. A place to call home.
Living in a small, rural community, Tia struggled to find the resources she needed to overcome her substance abuse and mental health issues. She relied on her Mom and “Grammy” to take her to therapy appointments, AA meetings, and support groups. Tia desperately wanted to be able to take the bus or walk on her own to her appointments. She felt that this independence would help her on her road to recovery.
“That was my dream. I thought, if I can get to Grand Rapids, then I will be able to do it on my own. I will really be able to figure out how to live sober and have a recovery community to live in.”
In order to make this dream become a reality, Tia required access to affordable and supportive housing. For many years, she was living at her parent’s house or staying with friends, neither of which provided Tia with the independence and consistent support that she needed to stay sober. Two years ago, Tia was able to move into her own apartment at Herkimer Apartments. She now has a stable place to call home and it provides her with the independence she needs to live her own life.
“Living here has really changed my life. It’s so peaceful now. My life was chaos for a long time.”
Tia has been sober for 10 months, is newly engaged, and plans to start looking for a job in the near future. Herkimer Apartments has provided Tia with the independence and hope she needs to create the future that she has always dreamed about.
In search of a new life, Milly left Detroit and moved to Grand Rapids 16 years ago. She moved into a house, began a career providing in-home daycare, and found a church family. Today, all she has left of that life is her church family.
Despite efforts to create a prosperous life for herself, and after several years of adversity, Milly found herself living in a women’s shelter. Grieving the death of her son, as well as dealing with homelessness, Milly was struggling to make it through each day. She was able to find some respite at the shelter for a short period of time, but still longed for a more positive and supportive living environment.
“I was so excited when Herkimer called me. They gave me an apartment of my own, that I could afford.”
Beneath the initial excitement, Milly continued to struggle with the devastation of losing her son. During her first few months at Herkimer, Milly would often seclude herself in her apartment. She requested that the staff come check on her, to make sure she was okay. To knock down the door if she didn’t answer. With the support of the staff at Herkimer Apartments, as well as from fellow neighbors, Milly is now seen socializing and enjoying her new life.
“Where else could you go for low-income housing like this?! It’s beautiful. You can’t ask for nothing else. You have central air; you can have all the air you want. You can keep your lights on as much as you want. I love it here! Not only do I love my apartment, but I love the people that I am around.”
Along with socializing with her neighbors, she is also able to enjoy one of her favorite hobbies, BINGO.
“BINGO! I LOVE BINGO! I LOVE BINGO!”
In addition to ruling the BINGO scene at Herkimer Apartments, Milly has aspirations of traveling to Niagara Falls with her mother, getting married, and continuing to be strong each and every day.
James lived an all-too-common scenario: a wife and children, a modest home, a stable job. Then one day, he finds himself with nothing. Divorced. Foreclosed home. Laid-off. The distress that James felt led him into a deep depression, which ultimately led to a severe case of diabetes and the loss of one of his legs. At the young age of 50, James is now confined to a wheelchair. Although some would perceive this as another set-back in life, James has fully embraced his new way of maneuvering through the world. He is continuously seen with a smile on his face, with positive words to share, and emits an infectious joy for life.
At Herkimer Apartments, James is able to live a fully independent life. One that he didn’t think was possible after losing his leg.
“This is for ME?! I didn’t even know it was going to be handicap accessible! Herkimer gave me more than just a place to lay my head. It gave me courage. It gave me my independence. I can cook on my own. I can wash my own clothes. I can be like I was before, even without a leg.”
James has embraced all that Herkimer Apartments has to offer. He frequents the Community Garden and the community events, such as ice cream socials. He has also had the opportunity to take part in board meetings regarding community engagement initiatives. With help from the staff at Herkimer, he is able to fill out paperwork that, due to the numbness in his hands from diabetes, he wasn’t able to do before.
Prior to living at Herkimer, James explains that “behind my smile, was a bitter man.” Now, after being given the opportunity to live in an affordable, supportive, and safe environment, James would gladly shout from the rooftops of Grand Rapids “I LIVE A JOYOUS LIFE!”
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Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids, Inc.
Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids, Inc.