Urban Alliance creates more opportunities for community outreach with office upgrades, community partnerships and mobile showers

Many doors have closed during the pandemic, but for Urban Alliance in Kalamazoo, one door has been pushed wide open. This past spring, Urban Alliance purchased the building they have occupied since 2015, providing them with a blank canvas for what the organization could become.  

“It’s a God-given right to be clean”: Urban Alliance brings mobile showers to Kalamazoo


Having access to a shower is a simple pleasure that most people take for granted; it’s an important step in a morning or nightly routine, it takes away the grime of a hard day's work, and helps some people rid themselves of stress. We don’t always think about how not everyone has easy access to a shower. According to a 2019 report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the homeless population in Kalamazoo has been on the rise four years in a row, now totaling over 700 people. Finding access to a public shower has gotten trickier since March, as pandemic regulations decrease the capacity of public bathing facilities. In the face of these new restrictions, Kalamazoo’s Urban Alliance is bringing a mobile shower to Kalamazoo, to give people the simple pleasure of getting clean. 


“It’s a God given right to be clean and feel good about yourself,” said Jason Knight, connections coordinator for Urban Alliance.


The mobile shower will take place at The River Church on Oct. 13-16 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Showers will be held in a trailer outside which houses multiple shower units. Urban Alliance is partnering with The River Church, Living Hope Church, First Presbyterian Church, Kalamazoo Public Library, Project Connect, Recovery Institute, Kalamazoo Free Methodist Church, Renovations Church, Lighthouse Church and Cope Network to provide linens, toiletries, and clothing closets. Urban Alliance is also currently working to have flu shots offered onsite.


Knight hopes that an event like this could have a lot of positive impact on the community.  Firstly, though there is often a negative stigma surrounding the homeless community, Knight hopes this event will give community volunteers an opportunity to find some common ground. 


“When you actually engage, you realize they are individuals just like you and I. They just had different circumstances,” Knight said.


The National Homelessness Law Center estimates that each year, 2.5 to 3.5 million U.S Americans sleep in shelters, transitional housing, and public places. The NHCL stated in 2018 that some reasons for homelessness include domestic violence against women, mental illness with insufficient resources, drug additions with insufficient resources, and insufficient income with lack of affordable housing. 


“To put the problem in perspective, in the United States there is not a single state where a full-time worker earning minimum wage can afford a market-rate apartment,” said Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin in an article she wrote for Second Wave Media.


Knight hopes that volunteers at the mobile shower will be able to find commonality, as he has been able to do himself from his experience serving abroad in the military.


“I’ve never been homeless, but I went about four months without a shower when I was in Desert Storm, so I can empathize a little bit,” Knight said.


Knight also hopes that his event will serve as a wake-up call for other organizations and businesses in the community. From 2018 to 2019, the homeless population in Kalamazoo increased by 24 percent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The issue of homelessness in Kalamazoo is not getting better, and Knight hopes the mobile showers will help shed light on this issue, and get other people thinking: “What can I do?”  


Other goals aside, Knight says the real purpose of the event is to give people a positive experience. 


“It’s not so much about the shower, but about the experience, so they go in there and feel like this is their day,” Knight said.


The October mobile shower event is the only one that Urban Alliance is planning currently, but Knight says there is a possibility that they will plan more depending on how the first event goes. After learning from the first event, Knight says it is likely that Urban Alliance will plan another in the spring, however, Knight’s vision is bigger than that. Knight hopes one day Urban Alliance will build or buy their own mobile showers, allowing them to take their services anywhere. 


“But even if we don’t create an opportunity for more mobile showers, at least for this four-day window, we have given individuals a shower,” Knight said. “We have gotten them clean for one day, so they can feel great about themselves.”



Urban Alliance’s new offices provide a blank canvas for programming


Many doors have closed during the pandemic, but for Urban Alliance in Kalamazoo, one door has been pushed wide open. This past spring, Urban Alliance purchased the building they have occupied since 2015, providing them with a blank canvas for what the organization could become.  


Urban Alliance nonprofit with a 20-year history in the community. Urban Alliance officially became a non-profit organization in 2006, as a conduit to embrace marginalized communities in Kalamazoo, particularly in the Northside, Eastside and Edison Neighborhoods. Urban Alliance in Kalamazoo creates general services and programming through community partnerships. They go out into the community to figure out what people need, and try to make it happen.


The building, located on 1009 E Stockbridge Avenue in Kalamazoo’s Edison Neighborhood, was previously owned by an United Methodist Church while Urban Alliance worked out of offices in the basement.


Now, Urban Alliance has three floors to utilize. 


“Right now we have a blank canvas, and we want to put it to good use,” Knight said.


The building is complete with a gymnasium, plenty of classrooms, a sanctuary for public speaking events, and a large kitchen.


Programming to accompany the new space is still to-be-determined, but when Knight sees the building’s potential, he has one goal in mind.


“It’s a community center,” Knight said.


When he sees the gymnasium, Knight imagines a public officer coaching basketball. He sees community meals being prepared in the kitchen; he sees a media center in the second-floor room by the staircase; he sees a daycare with STEM classes. 


“We have this amazing opportunity right now to shape it how (the community) wants,” Knight said. “That comes from going out into the community and listening to them. Learning what they need.”


One thing that can come from purchasing the building, is a partnership with BLND to provide free addiction and recovery services.  This comes in the form of yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy sessions and support groups. 


Knight says that community partnerships are the most effective way to provide services, the partnership with BLND providing a good example of that. Collaboration may also be the key to turning Urban Alliance’s empty building into the community center Kalamazoo needs.