At 17, living in a tent by the river

As of late December, Roy Turner called a tent along the Grand River home. (Bridge photo by Ted Roelofs)

GRAND RAPIDS – At age 21, Roy Turner already could be considered a veteran of the streets.

Homeless off and on since he was 17, he’s slept in a van, stayed with relatives, in shelters, in abandoned buildings, and lately, in a tent in several spots along the Grand River.

“I’ve woken up to gunfire. People would try to raid our camp,” Turner said, recounting recent events in his life. He was sharing his thoughts at a Grand Rapids drop-in center known as HQ a temporary daytime refuge for homeless youth and young adults.

HQ provides the homeless and runaways aged 14 to 24 with a place to take a shower, grab a meal, do laundry or get extra clothing. The center also provides job and educational resources and has a computer lab for online school courses, homework or to help young people find employment.

Turner recalled that the chaos at the homeless camp convinced him and his girlfriend to move several hundred yards farther down a trail along the river, trudging through snow. They found a secluded spot in the trees below a small rise and planted their tent there.

“You can’t see it from the trail,” Turner said.

This journey began years ago for Turner when his mother lost their home in Ohio to foreclosure. Shortly after that, she lost her factory job. From there, Turner said, he and his mother bounced around in different states of homelessness, sometimes together, sometimes not.

“I was on the street, in shelters, with friends. She would stay in her car, stay at grandma’s house. She gave up looking for a place.”

About seven months ago, he moved to Grand Rapids. After a few recent weeks at a local shelter, Turner and his girlfriend of two years moved back to their camp by the river. He said he was thinking of enrolling at Grand Rapids Community College.

But with just $20 to his name, Turner was taking things day by day.

Though hardened by experience, Turner conceded life on the streets can be anything but fun.

“It’s painful. It hurts, when you’re walking down the street in the snow and nobody gives you a ride. Everybody looks at you like you’re a piece of trash.”

Turner said he’s not one to start trouble. But just in case, he said, he carries a knife and a can of Mace.

“You have some scary people walking up to you, just to f— with you for no reason. I’ve never been  physically assaulted. You don’t let it get to that point.

“You got to worry about people trying to run you out of your campsite. There are people who will try to rob you. It’s not an easy lifestyle.”

Still, he was hopeful that one day the wheel would turn his way. He’d been applying for jobs online and was optimistic he could land work as a security guard. He talked about starting some kind of online business.

“I don’t see us out here too much longer,” he said.

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Mon, 01/16/2017 - 3:34pm

At this time most hotels and motels and hospitals have empty roomsOur state and federal gov. MSDA /HUD and DHHS get and work out a deal with them !private investors pay/DONATE like Gofundme.! and have people of the street and in the warm/safe rooms!

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 3:37pm

To all citizens....and leaders with 2020 CENSUS is coming and we /YOU will need people to get more money from washington!have all people signed in at city hall NOW!

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 10:19am

Wow, this is difficult to read about someone so young. This is why it is so important that the new Administration work hard to supercharge the American job market. Since the great Recession starting in 2007 the job market has been devastated and it continues to be terrible though slightly improved. The Federal Government has a system that terribly undercounts the jobless and totally ignores the under employed while barely recognizing prospective workers that have dropped out of the job market altogether.

Roy Turney
Mon, 01/23/2017 - 6:53pm

Ted, Great story sorry about the rude comments that was my GF. Everything looks correct accept a few minor things. My mother didn't lose her job she quit due to a shoulder injury that occurred on the job. I must have miscommunicated that i have been bouncing back between friends and living in a van and in a tent recently since 18 not 17. We currently are working with wellhouse trying to obtain housing just falling short of the necessary deposit amounts required. I have also started my job as a security officer. Also my girlfriends name is Larissa Black and shes 20.