Detroit nonprofit aims to help homeless youth in SE Michigan

DETROIT – During the harshest months of the year, when Michigan winters can be too cold to bear, Detroit’s homeless youth are left to fend for themselves. Unless someone like Miss Stephanie Taylor comes along.

“While we out on the street we let every young person know that if they need any services please give us a call,” said Taylor. “Even if we can’t help them we can refer them to another organization.”

Taylor works for Covenant House. A place for at-risk 18 to 24-year-olds with no place to go. She has been helping them for more than two decades.

“We don’t discriminate against who we approach,” Taylor said sitting in the back seat of the Covenant House van she uses to find people in need.  “We try to talk to as many young people just in case they going through something and they could’ve left a friend’s house, a relative house or something like they and they could like they ok but they not ok. We want to make sure that we eliminate any barriers that can stop them from moving forward or save their life.”

With the help of Taylor, Local 4 rode along on her daily search. Because the need extends beyond Detroit’s youth, she often gets calls from people who have aged out of covenant house. But Taylor still devotes time to helping them. Like on the first stop. A mother and daughter who needed a ride to the doctor.

“Oh that’s right around the corner! So we’ll take you there so you can go in so you know you’re good ok?” she said. While on the way, Taylor looked through paperwork. The mother and daughter had just come from the social security office and needed help finding a more permanent place to stay.

“So then you’ll be straight, did you get your stuff taken care of? Did you get your stuff straight?” she asked as the rear door opened to make the drop off at the doctor’s office. “The good news is they’re trying to get housing!”

After the drop-off, it was a phone call. Taylor hoping to get that mother and daughter a bed for the night, putting in a call to another local shelter.

“See unless you can click over, they’re there now and see if she’d be willing to accept the help,” she told the other shelter’s operator. The call was short but she seemed optimistic and would come back to give a ride after the doctor’s appointment.

After that, an unplanned stop to help a stranger who was seen washing himself with hand wipes near a gas station in Midtown Detroit.

“Hey! how you doing!” Taylor exclaimed out the passenger window with a wave. “Would you like some gloves? Would you like a snack? Are you familiar with Covenant House?”

At 40, the man was too old for Covenant House but needed to be at a shelter with a bus route to work. So, Taylor took him there and found someone else. This time a young man she could help. But that’s a story that needs context first.

Back at Covenant House. Things were ready for that young man. The non-profit grounds are complete with an education building focusing on developing life skills, rooms built for safe, independent living and its own store... Where young people can find pick out their personal care products... Clothes and shoes. All of it is designed to restore a sense of dignity in lives that are often in turmoil. Our tour was led by Covenant House Executive Director Meagan Dunn.

“We want to give them that respect that they get to come here and they get to pick whatever it is that they need. If they’re going for a job interview, there’s close for that. If they just need sweats. we have that and they have access to this at any time,” Dunn said standing in the non-profit’s “store.”

Covenant House has been running in Detroit since 1997 and has helped more than 80,000 homeless youth in that time. It often doesn’t take much for someone’s life to be turned upside down; a family dispute, the loss of a job, a mistake landing someone on the wrong side of the law or a relapse of an addiction.

Once on the streets, the city’s homeless youth are some of the most at risk. Usually, they don’t have any money or a steady job. During the day, they’re easy targets for human traffickers and at night there are so few safe places to stay. With so many having aged out of state care, 1/3rd of the people covenant house cares for have aged out of foster care.

“18 to 24 is interesting because they’re not designated as young children so there are specific resources there they don’t qualify for and then by federal government standards they’re not technically adults, Dunn said.

All of it meaning those who have time and time again fallen through the cracks, fall even further. It also makes finding homeless youth not just a race against the elements but also a race against the clock.

“We are really trying to capture these young people before they become chronically homeless,” said Dunn. “Because once they reach that designation the barriers to exit are just so much higher. So our goal here is at covenant house is to not only provide safe shelter and a calm place to live in the time that they’re with us but we want to get them the life skills so they can live independently and it stops the cycle of home homelessness.”

Which brings this story back to the lucky meeting with Taylor.

“I remember you from Covenant House!” Taylor said to a young man waiting outside another shelter.

That man was Demario Fears. He had spent the night at a different shelter. He was recently forced to move out of where he was staying and he was left with no place to go. But Taylor recognized the 21-year-old from his time at Covenant House three years ago and offered him a place to go again.

“I was 17 when I was homeless before too,” Fears said in the backseat of the Covenant House van. “There was domestic violence with my aunty and they were living with us too.”

This time, Fears had been caught with a warrant out for his arrest and spent 90 days in jail, causing him to lose his apartment. It’s a mistake from the last time he was homeless he thought he’d put behind him.

“I had just moved out of my granny’s house and I had my own stuff but I had a warrant. I had an old warrant caught up with me from 2021, 2022.” He explained. “I had the 90 days. I did that. When I got out… that was three months over, like it was already done. So, I went back to my grandma’s house but it didn’t work out.”

Fears is now hoping to start fresh, with the help of Covenant House again.

“Right now, I’m being more independent by taking a step,” he said. “Even if my pride won’t let me. I have to diminish it, you know what I’m saying? If I really want to get my own place, skip the pride. This is what I’ve got to do.”

Back in the parking lot, Taylor led Fears to be screened for COVID and to take basic health questions. After that, Covenant House will help Fears and hundreds of others like him find a warm bed, a change of clothes and a chance to start again.

About the Author:

Grant comes to Local 4 from Oklahoma City. He joins the news team as co-anchor of Local 4 News Today weekend mornings and is a general assignment reporter.