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Homeless Angels Provides An Outside Of The Box Approach To Serving The Homeless

Tracie Baise takes orders from clients in the Homeless Angels food truck.
Abigail Censky, WKAR
Tracie Baise takes orders from clients in the Homeless Angels food truck.

Even in a wind storm the Homeless Angels food truck has attracted a crowd of over forty people. Three people buzz around the inside of the food truck in a chaotic ballet heaping beans and taco toppings on top of a bed of Doritos as Tracie Baise takes orders.

Every Sunday the Homeless Angels team heads to a different Lansing park to serve up hot meals for people experiencing homelessness. This week it’s Reuter park and before the day is over they’ll serve 95 people.

But, Baise emphasizes for Homeless Angels it’s about more than just putting food on people’s plates.

Our whole goal with the dinners in the park is not necessarily just feeding them. Cause that’s, I mean that’s huge. But, ultimately what we want to do is earn their trust.”

The food truck operation began by accident. Volunteers used to serve meals in the park on Sundays until the health department was called. Homeless Angels and their volunteers were left scratching their heads, until an anonymous donor donated a food truck.

“It was a blessing in disguise,” said Baise.

While clients are lined up waiting for their meal a group of volunteers does triage in the line, talking with people and making sure they have “needs items” like gloves and stocking caps.

“A lot of them have social anxiety, they have PTSD, there’s mental illness and they don’t trust people. So our goal is to help be here to build that trust in us so that we can help get them into the hotel and into permanent housing and all the availability they can have from that point,” explains Baise.

The food truck is the first interface. Second, is the motel acquired by Homeless Angels. When Tracie’s husband Tim took over as President of Homeless Angels in 2017 they converted the old Burkewood Inn into a full time homeless shelter.

They went from “renting” 20 rooms per night to homeless clientele, free of charge in 2017 to 52 rooms today.

Tim Baise says the food truck is the first step in what they view as a more holistic approach to helping the homeless community.

“They know the food truck is coming. They know where it’s going to be, when it’s going to be there. And, they build a little reliance on it. And there’s some trust in that, right? Because if you’ve been beaten down or you’ve been broken to a point where you are homeless there’s trust issues. There’s hardness that gets wrapped around people's hearts.”

The idea is, by becoming a fixture and providing routine to people around Lansing experiencing homelessness, they’ll eventually gain the trust of prospective clients who can become residents of the motel and eventually transition into housing of their own.

The motel is the other big thing that separates Homeless Angels from the other shelters and missions around town. The 52 rooms are open 365 days a year for families or individuals.

But, unlike at other shelters, they can stay for longer than the night.

Guests can stay for over 90 days. And, during their stay they’ll have access to Homeless Angels case workers to assist them with everything from getting a driver's license or copy of their birth certificate to scheduling job interviews.

Tim Baise says the ability that Homeless Angels affords guests to stay long-term is really what sets them apart.

“The ability that we give everybody for that full time stability, you don’t have to leave in the morning and come back at night. This is a full time, 24/7 facility that you can build stability and not come and go, come and go, come and go.  Cause that does make it difficult for trying to rebuild the way we help to rebuild.”

Tabitha Hubbell is one of the success stories. Before connecting with Homeless Angels, Hubbell had done several stints at other local shelters and struggled with substance abuse. She said the integrated approach that Homeless Angels takes made the difference for her.

“Honestly, it’s the people here. They bring it together more as a family than just as a facility for you stay at. Like, I’ve been here for seven months and I love it here. I’m scared to leave honestly to move into my place and start my own life. Cause’ they’ve made it comfortable here,” said Hubbell.

And, for many Homeless Angels clientele the first step of that transition takes place at the food truck.

Back in Reuter Park, Tracie Baise is hamming it up with the regulars, taking walking taco orders.

“Sir, would you like everything. ‘Yes, everything. The trailer and everything.’” The food truck crew breaks into laughter. Another volunteer yells over the humming of the truck "As long as you bring it back next Sunday."

This particular Sunday they’ll serve nearly 100 people and take one person off the streets and back to the motel.

For Homeless Angels, the food truck and motel are instruments to access their client’s trust—the thing they view as the key ingredient to success.

Follow Abigail Censky on Twitter @AbigailCensky

Abigail Censky is the Politics & Government reporter at WKAR. She started in December 2018.
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