DETROIT – Donald will never forget the day Stephanie Taylor and Marquise Williams came into his life.
Taylor and Williams introduced Donald to Covenant House Michigan, a shelter for young people ages 18 to 24. The nonprofit focuses on helping homeless, runaway and at-risk young people.
"I was around people that did a whole bunch of illegal things and I didn't want to be part of it no more so I just left and started becoming homeless," Donald said.
Donald said being homeless is terrible. He couldn't sleep at night because he was too cold. He told Local 4 there are people who are homeless who literally would rather be in jail than homeless.
Now he stays at Covenant House Michigan and takes advantage of services there to get himself back on the right track. Those services included an employment class with interview tips. Shortly after, he was hired at the airport.
"I don't have to worry about where I'm going to sleep or when I'm going to eat or anything," Donald said. "They have these groups and everything where you can talk and express how you feel. They help you with anything that's on your mind."
Services at the nonprofit include shelter, educational and vocational programs.
Taylor has done outreach for Covenant House Michigan for 20 years. She and Williams, her partner, spend a lot of time traveling the streets of Detroit in a Covenant House minivan, reaching out to youth to teach them about Covenant House Michigan and offer help if they need it. They will pick them up and take them to the shelter or refer them to other places that also help.
"Usually when young people are homeless and they don't have anywhere to go, they might sit in emergency rooms," Taylor said. "They might go there to play like they're sick. They might sit in the transit center because it's free to get in. They might sit inside the Greyhound bus station or they might sit around in restaurants and coffee shops and things like that until they figure out what they're next step going to be."
Taylor said youth can become homeless for several reasons, including young people who are working and lose their jobs or those who just don't make enough for affordable housing. They can also become victims of crime, including trafficking and not even realize their situation.
"Sometimes they'll be at their so-called boyfriend's house, which is really not a boyfriend's," she said. "What they're doing is, 'OK, you can stay here as long as you can do this.' And it can be sex. ... It can be, 'You've got to do it with my friends. You've got to sell this.' It can be a variety things, and they still, in their minds, they don't think they're in a homeless situation. They could think, 'Oh, I'm at my boyfriend’s house,' but they might have to sell drugs.
"It's a variety of young people in situations that they're not even considering that they're homeless because they're not even getting counted in that field. They're thinking it's love and it's not. They're being trafficked and they're being abused and we see that."
According to Covenant House Michigan in Southeast Michigan:
- Less than 21 percent of shelter beds in southeast Michigan are designated for homeless youth.
- 459 homeless young people spend at least one day every month without food.
- 18 percent of homeless youth report being victims of violent crimes during their time on the street.
- Within 48 hours of being on the streets, 1 in 3 young people will be approached by a trafficker.
Covenant House Michigan told Local 4 it served 2,365 youth last year in street outreach, drop-in, crisis shelter and rites of passage.
For Taylor, seeing young people get a new start is what keeps her going day after day.
"This could be your child," she said. "This can be your sister, your brother, and I tell people all the time, we're not immune. Something (can) happen to us. Who is going to be out there to approach your kid if their family members turn their back on him? Just to hear kids say, 'I wouldn't know what I would have done if you hadn't pulled up and helped me.'"
Taylor is being honored Thursday with a Lizzie Award for her "remarkable 20 years of dedicated service to the homeless and at-risk youth of metro Detroit tomorrow night at Covenant House Michigan's "A Night of Broadway Stars" benefit at the Sound Board at Motor City Casino Hotel. The award is given to people who devote themselves to the mission of Covenant House Michigan and the people it serves."
For more information on Covenant House Michigan, click here.