Ozone House in Ann Arbor: Making a difference one child at a time

Ozone House's emergency shelter at 1705 Washtenaw Ave. (Photo: Ozone House)
Ozone House's emergency shelter at 1705 Washtenaw Ave. (Photo: Ozone House)

ANN ARBOR – Since 1969, Ozone House has been providing runaways, homeless and high-risk youths a safe haven with a wide array of housing options and support services. Its mission is to provide them with the resources they need to lead safe, healthy and productive lives.

Ozone House's main location at 1705 Washtenaw Ave. is a beautiful old white house just off University of Michigan's campus that blends in with impressive Greek life houses and Ann Arbor Hills homes around it.

To many passersby, it might seem like another historic home, but inside is an emergency shelter for 10- to 17-year-olds and a dedicated staff working around the clock.

Ozone House has been in this location since 1997, and it serves as the headquarters for its 24-hour crisis call center. It also has an intake manager, two family therapists and three case managers who work closely with the kids and their families.

Trained volunteers, ranging from University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University students to retirees and members of the community, take over 2,000 calls on the crisis line per year. 

"Struggling with your friends, being mad at your parents, struggling with depression or anxiety, afraid to express your true identity, teenagers sometimes just need someone to talk to that’s not their parents,"  explained marketing and communications manager Heidi Ruud. 

Kids who come to Ozone House are experiencing crises in the home due to abuse, neglect, teen pregnancy, parental substance abuse and rejection, among other factors. Those who opt to stay with Ozone House do so because it is safer for them to be living outside their home.

In a crisis situation, Ozone House will pay for a child's transportation to its facility.

"Invisible. That is the heart-wrenching reality of homeless children. Even strong community leaders fail to recognize the difference between a youth that has slept in a bed the previous night and one who has not." - Alumni testimonial 

Kids can stay for up to three weeks, and Ozone House reports a 95% success rate in returning to a safe environment, whether back in their home or with relatives.

(Credit: Ozone House YouTube channel)

Overall, Ozone House has three operating centers. In addition to its Washtenaw location, it has a bustling drop-in center in Ypsilanti, which serves approximately 40 young people every night, and provides after-school programming including hot meals, shower facilities, on-site computers, food and toiletries to take home, substance abuse counseling, career services, work training, LGBTQ support services, community outreach and leadership opportunities for young people age 13-20. It also has an transitional living house for high-risk 17- to 20-year-olds in an undisclosed location in Ann Arbor.

Unlike its emergency shelter, this facility is for young adults who, in most cases, will never go home.

"At our transitional living house we teach the young people life skills so they can live successfully on their own after exiting Ozone House," said Ruud. "We teach them how to cook, how to clean, how to manage their finances, how to get and keep a job, how to take care of an apartment, how to live on your own. Many of these young people have not had role models in their lives to teach them these skills."

With space for six young adults, Ozone House requires them to be in school or working while staying at the house for up to 1 1/2 years.

The goal is to prepare them to be financially independent and have a safe living situation. While there, youth pay a regular stipend to Ozone House, which the organization saves and gives them upon their exit to use as a down payment for their own apartment.

"By going to Ozone House, I was awarded friendship, trust, honesty, and a lot of people who refused to see me down. Thanks to Ozone, I have not been homeless for three years, and I am in college. I had someone to vent to when I lost my child. When I was depressed, they saved my life." - Alumni testimonial

Due to transient living situations or homelessness, many of these young adults do not have birth certificates or social security numbers, which makes getting a driver's license or a job virtually impossible. Ozone House helps them jump through bureaucratic hoops to obtain proper documentation so that they can be independent.

Kids and their families come to Ozone House for services from across Washtenaw county, but largely from the highly populated communities of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. 

Last year, Ozone House helped over 4,000 kids across all their services, from a safe place to stay at their emergency shelter or transitional living house, placement in an apartment, on the crisis line, through after school programming at their drop-in center, through The Education Project, or through counseling services provided to those still living at home.

Read harrowing alumni testimonials here.

To learn more about Ozone House, and for donation and volunteer information, click here.

The crisis line can be reached at 734-662-2222.

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