ANN ARBOR – On Thursday afternoon, federal, state and local officials, donors, community members and Ozone House staff gathered at its new Forever Home at 1600 N. Huron River Drive in Ypsilanti for a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the pending opening of its brand-new facility.
Founded in 1969, Ozone House is the only provider of broad-ranging support services in Washtenaw County for youth in crisis and their families. For 50 years it has been operating from 1705 Washtenaw Ave., a 5,311-square-foot, five bedroom home built in 1901. With constant repairs needed on the home’s old infrastructure and limited space for its growing staff, the agency has long awaited this expansion.
Backing up against the Huron River on five and a half acres of land, the new 19,000-square-foot facility will feature 26 beds -- more than double the amount in its current home.
Its Safe Space Shelter will serve youth ages 10 to 17, and its Miller House Program will help young adults with transitional living up to 18 months at a time.
In its current building, children shared rooms packed with bunk beds, a stark contrast from its current space.
“We’re going to be able to offer young people their own bedrooms," said Ozone executive director Krista Girty. “What we know from our work over the years is that often young people will say no to coming in because they’re afraid to share a room. They already have so much stuff going on, they don’t know who that (other) person is. We need to be able to do that and we can finally do that.”
Girty revealed that future plans for the site include an apartment building that will allow the Ozone House campus to sleep 50 young people on any given night.
While it is a major step forward from its current 12-bed facility, Girty said there is much more to be done.
“We do not have enough beds in this community,” she said. “There are homeless young people out there. They are sleeping in the streets, in cars and abandoned buildings.”
According to Ozone House, approximately 2,000 youth are homeless in Washtenaw County and more than half of them are under 18 years old. With the closing of two southeast Michigan emergency youth shelters in 2017, and with long waiting lists for beds at Ozone House, many have had nowhere to go.
✉ Like what you’re reading? Sign up for our email newsletter here!
Beyond the youth they serve, Girty said the new facility will be a game changer for staff.
“What our staff need more than anybody is what they offer to our young people, which is safety and stability and predictability," said Girty. “We deserve to have our basic needs met, too. We’ve been shoving ourselves in the buildings. We’re doubled up and tripled up, we can’t use the bathroom. It has had such an impact on our staff, but they are lovely and resilient and thoughtful.”
“It’s great. It’s needed," said Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. "That’s what people don’t realize is that people are here for all kinds of reasons. One of the people I know (from Ozone) was a foster child who had responsibility for her siblings and Ozone helped them so much. So, I just think it’s great that this gives them expanded ability to help people.”
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor echoed Dingell’s comments on the need for expansion, and said Ozone House has played a critical role for youth in both Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County for decades.
“Ozone House, for years, have provided outstanding, desperately-needed services to young people in Ann Arbor and throughout Washtenaw County," said Taylor. "With the new location, with the new expansion, they’ll be able to expand those services even more providing a safe place for young people to learn, to get the support they need to get the safety and shelter they need. It’s a tremendously important part of our community.”
Dug and Linh Song donated a generous closing gift to Ozone House’s 2019 matching campaign, which is close to meeting its fundraising goal of $6.5 million. Linh, a former board member of The Neutral Zone, said she and her husband have been concentrating on supporting youth-centered organizations for the past couple of years.
“We were impressed by Ozone’s leadership and it’s mission," she said. “We’re trying to do innovative work but also helping them in capacity-building - and capital campaigns are tough to fund. When we came in on this, this was part of a match, and we were more than happy to help them unlock that match and just get going.”
While the building is complete, it still needs to be furnished. Brand-new supplies could be seen stacked in various rooms, and staff hope to move in within a month.
Individual offices, a health clinic and a flex room that will be used for events and job training will allow staff to finally have the space they need.
“In our current building, you have to walk through the crisis room to get to the kitchen, to the nursing office, anywhere,” said crisis line and volunteer coordinator LJ Sarten. "We have people walking back and forth all the time (in our office) and it’s very loud and very cramped. So, having our own private room with soundproof windows and being able to get people where they need to go – it’s going to make a huge difference.”