Grand Rapids residents share experience with Minimal Living Challenge

When people see the word homeless, they usually think of someone who lives on the street. However, youth homelessness can be very different. A man in Grand Rapids knows what it is like firsthand, and he’s partnered with others to raise awareness for those in need.

For the past seven days, a green backpack has recorded Matthew Naylor’s life.

“It’s been a long time so I’m struggling with it,” he told FOX 17 on Sunday night.

Naylor was one of 50+ people who took part in Mel Trotter Ministries’ Minimal Living Challenge this week and only survived the clothes and toiletries he could fit in that bag.

“I’m really running out of shower gel,” said Naylor. “There are about 2 drops left.”

Mel Trotter Ministries introduced this challenge to help people run a mile in the shoes of someone affected by young homelessness.

For Naylor these are shoes that he once wore himself.

“Yes, I have experienced homelessness several times in my life,” said Naylor.

About eight years ago, living out of the backpack wasn’t a choice for Naylor. He couchsurfed in his hometown of Baltimore for about a year before moving to Grand Rapids.

“I’ve been a drug addict for a long time,” he said. “I’ve spent all my money and burned down all of my bridges. Before you knew it, I had no apartment and absolutely no one I could rely on. “

Naylor, now 34 years old, has managed to turn his life around. He lives in an apartment with his fiancée and his eight-year-old son. Last year he worked as a case manager for youth shelters at Mel Trotter Ministries.

Even so, he has not forgotten his past. That’s why he wanted to take part in the challenge.

“With help, I found my way out of homelessness,” he said. “I want to keep paying and help others out of homelessness.”

Ella Beringer, a junior at Grand Valley State, wanted to help too, so she decided to live off that green backpack all week too.

“It basically became my house,” she told FOX 17.

Beringer said the experience made her rethink her own life.

“I know I could do without a lot, so I actually started collecting things in my own apartment to donate,” said Beringer.

She said it also gave her a new perspective on homelessness.

“Basically, anyone who doesn’t feel safe has to go home to a closet and put their clothes in – I’ve learned that it can affect a lot more people than I originally thought,” said Beringer.

Naylor and Beringer – two people from completely different backgrounds who both work towards the same goal – help the homeless.

“I enjoy seeing people, especially young people, escape homelessness and become everything they have ever dreamed of.”

The Minimal Living Challenge ends on Monday morning. People like Matthew and Ella bring the green bags and donate everything in them. All items, including the backpacks themselves, will be donated to a young person who is homeless in Kent County.

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