Our Detroit campus was founded 22 years ago and our Grand Rapids campus has been open for a month and a half. As Executive Director, this feels like raising a newborn and guiding a young adult.
Detroit has deep connections throughout the region. We have partnerships with community organizations for every need or goal of our residents – schools, job placement, mental health services, medical services, and more. Because of our history and capacity, we touch the lives of over 3,000 young people a year. But Detroit needs oversight, course corrections, and of course, funding to make it all happen. But we are experienced, we’re able to take on new and ambitious projects like the House of Hope, our newest program to treat young people with co-occurring disorders like mental illness and substance abuse problems. We’re excited to open it up in 2019.
Like a newborn, Grand Rapids is just starting to find its feet. West Michigan has a deep well of human service organizations and philanthropic supporters who have a heart for the homeless. We are just starting to scratch the surface of what the community has to offer. Our first few resident referrals have come from one of our community partners, Mel Trotter and our staff come to us from a myriad of other organizations such as Bethany Christian Services and Safe Haven Ministries. We are starting to figure out the relationships, rules and connections that with time, have come easier to Detroit but we are committed to serving at-risk and homeless youth who come to us seeking shelter.
These two shelters are 160 miles and began 22 years apart, but in either one, youth homelessness still stems from the same three issues:
- The breakdown of family units. Plain and simple, youth become homeless if they have no place to call home. Whether it is from being kicked out, absent parents, or aging out of foster care, these kids have nowhere to go. There is no one to “fix” to the issue, it’s a whole host of interrelated issues – poverty, mental illness, lack of education, the foster care system, and more. But the more a community can pull together to reach out to those in the highest need, these problems can be alleviated.
- Strong school systems lead to better outcomes for their students. Schools watch young people 185 days out of the year, six hours a day, for 12 years. They take on the role of educator, rule-enforcer, encourager, problem-solver, friend, and leader- all the things a parent does. Michigan needs to continue to focus on our education system. We need to attract and retain bright and effective teachers as well as investments in other key factors to student success like small class sizes, early childhood education programs, summer and after-school programs.—> To explore this issue further, check out this Freep article on the Detroit teacher shortage, this Michigan Radio articles on Michigan teacher compensation, and this research article about improving student outcomes.
- The economic resurgence of both Grand Rapids and Detroit needs to permeate the poorest neighborhoods. We’re all trying to wrestle with this problem, the gentrification around our Detroit neighborhood is stark: in one direction, we are about five minutes away from a Starbucks and a Whole Foods and in another, five minutes away from Section 8 housing. —>For further reading, this article from the Detroit Free Press outlines the difficulties the metro-Detroit area faces and this Michigan Radio article looks at poverty in suburban Grand Rapids.
Thank you for taking the time to read and for your passion to end youth homelessness. From my Covenant House Michigan family to yours, we wish you a Happy 2019.