A Home for All Detroit Youth
An important part of any child’s life is a supportive and stable place to call home.
Unfortunately, many young people in Detroit, and across our state and country, are often without this sense of stability. According to federal education law, any youth without “a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” is considered homeless. For more than 36,000 children in Michigan’s elementary, middle and high schools, this is a reality that touches almost every aspect of their life. When a young person does not have access to a stable residence, it can increase their likelihood to transfer schools, experience long commutes, and be chronically absent from school in comparison to their non-homeless peers.
Despite the daily challenges they face, youth experiencing homelessness are often incredibly resilient. Just take Danielle*, a young Detroiter who experienced homelessness as a child and now serves homeless and transient youth as a member of the Youth Action Board with the Detroit Phoenix Center.
“Not being properly able to take care of myself on a daily basis was very emotional for me because I’ve always been independent,” Danielle said.
Her experience highlights some of the complex factors that play into the challenge of youth homelessness. Despite its size and impact, the crisis is often a silent one. Navigating the uncertainty of life without a fixed residence can be difficult for families and even more challenging for young people who are living on their own. Moreover, homelessness often comes with a negative social stigma that can make it challenging for families and youth to feel comfortable seeking the help they need.
“When you’re homeless, not having what you need as a youth can hinder you a lot and place many obstacles in your way,” Danielle said. “You don’t have access to a lot of things people take for granted like food, shelter, a place to rest or even being able to take a shower and take care of daily hygiene.”
Organizations like Detroit Phoenix Center are working tirelessly to deliver the resources, support, and sense of community young people need.
Founded in 2017, Detroit Phoenix Center’s Asset Based Resource Center (ABRC) provides homeless youth with access to a wide range of services including emergency housing support, meals, hygiene products, laundry services, showers, access to a computer lab, and transportation assistance. The program also assists with career readiness, life skills and educational workshops to help young people break the cycle of homelessness and gain the skills they need to navigate the world with confidence and independence. Currently, the program has 52 youth members, with an additional 1,200 young people reached last year through drop-in basic need support.
This important work recently received a boost when the program was selected to receive $50,000 in funding through the My Brother’s Keeper Detroit Innovation Challenge. The funding, along with additional professional and program support, will allow Detroit Phoenix center to strengthen their services and reach even more young people.
“My experience with DPC was a blessing because I was given the opportunity to get back on my feet and get access to the resources I needed. It also gave me a chance to help others along the way that are going through some of the same obstacles that I’ve overcome,” Danielle said.
Now a peer leader of Detroit Phoenix Center, Danielle is using her experience to guide her work with young people who are currently in the program. She plans on attending college in August to pursue a degree in business and entrepreneurship. She believes the resilience and sense of community she gained as part of the Detroit Phoenix Center will allow her to achieve her goals while also giving back to her community.
Understanding Youth Homelessness in Detroit
The number of youth experiencing homelessness and housing instability is undercounted. To produce a more accurate count of Detroit students struggling with homelessness, The Skillman Foundation is supporting University of Michigan Poverty Solutions to publish a databook on this issue by the end of 2019. The data will help inform and influence better systems and practices to account for these children and support them in their schools and communities.
Where to go for help
If you or a young person you know is facing housing instability or homelessness, the organizations below offer shelter and resources that can help.
*Name changed to protect privacy.
This blog is part of Forward For All, an ongoing monthly series sharing insights from The Skillman Foundation’s diversity, equity and inclusion learnings. Click here to read the series introduction.